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Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Pub. Date: April 4, 2017
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Bloomsbury Childrens!)
Summary: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.
Genre: Contemporary, YA

I fell hard for Brigid’s Elemental series, but was admittedly disappointed with her standalone, Thicker than Water. Was it just a fluke or had she lost her touch? I’m beyond thrilled to say Brigid is back and better than ever!

Juliet recently lost her award-winning photojournalist mother. Not to a bombing or gunfire, the kind of destruction she captured with her camera. No, instead she was killed during a hit-and-run on her way home from the airport – a few days early as a surprise. Grief still looms heavy over Juliet and she’s taken to spending hours in the cemetery leaving letters on her mother’s tombstone. She had assumed they would remain private, tossed out with all the dead flowers when the maintenance workers come through. She never imagined someone was actually reading them…until the day she got a reply.

Declan Murphy is your stereotypical go-nowhere kid. As if his reputation wasn’t enough to keep others away, he’s currently doing some court-appointed community service after he drunkenly crashed a car into a building and spent a few nights in jail. Honestly, mowing the grass at the cemetery a few nights a week isn’t the worst thing in the world, but he certainly didn’t expect to become entangled in a secret correspondence with someone who, for the very first time in his life, truly gets him and understands what he’s going through.

Told in alternating chapters, Letters to the Lost is a crazy fast read (I tore through it in a single sitting while our new puppy napped) with a surprisingly light tone for a book with such heavy topics as death, abuse, and alcoholism. Naturally Juliet is furious when she realizes someone has been reading her letters and lets him have it. For Declan’s part, he knows what he did was wrong, but doesn’t back down. Over time, their letters turn into e-mails (anonymous addresses created specifically for this one purpose) as Cemetery Girl and The Dark begin to open up without any fear of judgement. They tell each other things they haven’t even mentioned to their best friends, things they don’t even want to admit to themselves. All the while they remain under the guise of their e-mail handles, though they have learned a few things about the other’s identity: they’re both 17 (or so they claim) and go to the same school.

One major trope in YA is the absent parent. I’m pleased to say that’s not the case here. While Letters to the Lost might not feature ideal parents, there are fantastic examples of adults, from the maintenance manager at the cemetery to an English teacher. Declan’s best friend is adopted and Rev’s parents were just great. Genuinely nice (I especially loved one particular scene where Rev’s parents mistakenly thought Declan was asking their son to a school dance) and open their arms and home to those in need – not just Declan, but they foster children. The stand-ins for less than wonderful parents (or those who are legitimately out of the picture: Juliet’s mom, Declan’s incarcerated father) were all so wonderful and that aspect was just really well done.

Over the course of the novel, Juliet, Declan, and their respective best friends try to piece together who their mystery e-mailer could be. Juliet and Declan have crossed paths before in school and, well, their meetings have been spectacularly awful. It never even crossed their minds that the person they dread running into could actually be the same person they’ve been telling all their secrets to (and, for that matter, secretly falling for).

While there are some overwhelmingly heavy topics behind this book (death, abuse, suicidal thoughts), Letters to the Lost doesn’t come off as a tragic tale. Bad things have happened to these characters, but in the end, they come out on top. It did seem as though every major character was dealing with at least one hard-hitting demon, and I could have done with at least one happy person. That said, Brigid Kemmerer absolutely shines here and I’m so excited that her next release will delve deeper into one of my favorite characters! Also, instalove naysayers, have no fear: there’s no romance until literally the final paragraphs – talk about a slow burn!

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