Google+ YA Romantics: Compare and Contrast: The Summer of Letting Go vs Love Letters To the Dead

Monday, March 17, 2014

Compare and Contrast: The Summer of Letting Go vs Love Letters To the Dead


Welcome to my second Compare and Contrast, in which I pick two books with similar elements or themes and compare them. 

Today I'm looking at two books that take place in the aftermath of the death of the protagonist's sibling. This is a familiar theme in YA, and I have a Goodreads shelf devoted to loss of a sibling books. If you can think of any that I missed, please let me know in comments!

First up:

The Summer of Letting Go
by Gae Polisner
To be published on March 25, 2014
by Algonquin Books

Source: giveaway at ALA.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca's little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca is the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can t have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it is possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she'd never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.
My take: I really enjoyed The Pull of Gravity by this author, and was very excited to read The Summer of Letting Go. Yes, this is a "grief book," but also a beautiful coming-of-age-story with just a touch of mysticism. This story had an ageless and timeless feel, and does a masterful job of blending sadness and hope. Francesca's family is still reeling after the death of her little brother, Simon. Her mother buries herself in work for a foundation she started in her son's honor, while Francesca's father seems distant and absent. Meanwhile, Francesca is hired to babysit Frankie Sky, a four year-old boy whose father was recently killed in combat. She can't believe that Frankie's mother actually trusts her to watch Frankie after what happened to Simon. And she begins to think that Frankie might be the reincarnation of her dead brother. To make matters even more confusing, Francesca feels tremendous guilt over the fact that she's in love with her best friend's boyfriend. This is somewhat ironic, because she is also convinced that her father is having an affair.

All these plot elements -- loss, betrayal, first love, guilt, and hope -- are beautifully woven together against the backdrop of a summer at the beach. Frankie Sky is an adorable imp in the Junie B. Jones mold, using mixed-up syntax and bad grammar to hilarious effect. While the whole parental affair plot could have easily come off as cheesy or melodramatic, it was executed with a subtlety and sense of ambiguity that left me very impressed. If you're a fan of authors like Jessi Kirby, you should definitely give this book a try.

Love Letters to the Dead
by Ava Dellaira
To be published by FSG Books for Young Readers
on April 1, 2014.

Source: requested from the publisher for review.
Synopsis from Goodreads: It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.
My take:  I am not usually a fan of epistolary fiction and, yes, the title of this book should have clued me into the fact that this book falls into that category. There were definitely things that I liked about Love Letters to the Dead. The writing is lovely and I thought the story offered up a wrenchingly sad portrayal of a girl who's seeking a fresh start after the death of her sister. When Laurel was narrating her own life in the letters, I liked the story a lot.

That said, books told through letters always feel unsatisfying on a certain level. To me, most if not all epistolary books suffer from awkward exposition (there are things that narrators need to tell us that seem out of place in a letter) and a lack a sense of immediacy or urgency. The lack of urgency isn't an issue in the book, because Laurel's sister is already dead, but the awkward exposition issue did rear its head for me. Laurel began many of her letters by telling the addressee about their own life in the second person, as if they were receiving some kind of after-lifetime achievement award. ("Dear Kurt Cobain, You were the center of attention in your family, but your parents divorced when you were eight...") This gave the book a weird "Hollywood Biography" feeling and kept pulling me out of the story.  Then, I was under the impression that all the letter recipients died young, like Kurt Cobain, but that wasn't the case. I couldn't figure out why some of the recipients were chosen other than that they forwarded the plot in some way, which felt a little forced.

Even thought it wasn't a perfect fit for me as a reader, Love Letters to the Dead definitely had a lot of strengths. f you love epistolary fiction, literary writing, and love and loss stories, you should definitely check it out.

Have you read either of these? What did you think?

26 comments:

  1. Love Letters to the Dead. I am SO reading this. I really like books written through letters. I love it if there is stunning language involved. I've read two books: Perks Of Being A Wallflower, and Boy Next Door (with emails though). Perks had so many themes involved and is considered a "You -haven't-read-this?- HAW" sort of book, while BND was the sort of book that kept you giggling.

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    1. Then LLttD is perfect for you! Hope you enjoy :)

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  2. I need to be in a certain state of mind before I can read any type of "grief" books. While I find the topic a bit on the morbid side for me, ultimately, I think it's the promise of a heartache (via osmosis) that deters me from reading these books.

    I do like the sound of Letters to the Dead. It's definitely different, but I understand how the perspective would be a bit unsettling.

    Great reviews, Jen.

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    1. I don't mind those kinds of books. I'd say LLttD is a darker, sadder book, while TsoLG is a little more hopeful and uplifting, if that helps...

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  3. I'll be starting Love Letters to the Dead this week so we'll see what I think of it. The subject matter is right up my alley but I'm not sure the letters will work for me.

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    1. Look forward to seeing what you think. At least we are old and know who all these celebrities are who died in the 90s....

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  4. I have become so wary of reading grief books. I just don't need the depressing in my life! I have a copy of the first one, and you definitely make it sound appealing. I'll have to see if I can work myself up to reading it. I'm stalled at 43% into Love Letters and I haven't been able to make myself continue. I agree that the "letter" angle isn't that effective, but I've mostly been ignoring it for Laurel's story. However, this book feels so melancholy and depressing that I'm having trouble continuing. Something about Laurel's voice is hard for me to read. I do think the words are pretty, but it's dragging me down. Poor girl. We'll see if I continue or give up indefinitely.

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    1. I don't mind grief books but I do have topics that I'm wary of, so I understand. I liked the idea of the letters, and liked the idea that they were written to people who died young, but then some of the recipients didn't die young, so that was distracting to me.

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  5. I love your take on both books Jen :) For The Summer of Letting Go I love how you said it had a timeless feel to it so I'm definitely hooked to pick it up :) Plus who doesn't love a great contemporary? And Love Letters to the Dead, I'm not sure how books written through lettters will work for me. I agree how they don't fully satisfy the reader, but I'll add it to by TBR pile.

    Happy Reading Jen & Happy St. Patrick's Day!
    Patrick @ The Bookshelves

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    1. Look forward to seeing what you think.
      And Happy SPD -- I'm wearing green :)

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  6. I'm about to start Love Letters and I wonder if I'll feel the same since I normally don't do well with epistolary novels either (the exception being Perks of Being a Wallflower). The Summer of Letting Go sounds wonderful, I'll have to get a copy. Great reviews!

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    1. I liked Perks, but I think I enjoyed the movie even more. I just have this issue with stories told all in letters.....

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  7. While I haven't read any of the two I must say that books that deal with grief are usually dear to me, somehow they pull out really strong emotions. I'm glad those two did and that you enjoyed them, though epistolary books are sometimes hard to connect to. Great review, Jen :)

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    1. Then you should definitely try both of these!

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  8. I haven't read any of the two yet, but I am willing to try. But first, before I do anything even close to reading any of these two, I need to prepare my heart and mind first. Death is never an easy subject to talk or read about. My co-blogger, Rashika, did review Love Letters to the Dead and was saddened by it (she rated it 4 stars I think? haha) and even proceeded to e-mail me quite a long rant about the unfairness of death once she finished. I think that's proof enough of the impact it leaves the reader The Social Potato Reviews

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    1. It WAS a sad book, and didn't have a lot of resolution, which felt realistic, but also sad...

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  9. I know you have a love/hate relationship with epistolary narration, Jen--so kudos to you for tackling Love Letters! i'm reading it here shortly and looking forward to it though it seems reviews are mixed.

    I've never even heard of the first book you reviewed or her previous release but I aim to change that now:)

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    1. I loved her first book and this one was really good too!

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  10. Haven't had the chance to read either of these books-I love epistolary fiction but since you mentioned that you had a few issues with it maybe I should give The Summer of Letting Go a chance.

    I think one of the best books that focus on loss of a sibling is Saving June-Have you read it? If not you should definitely give it a chance. :)

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    1. Yes, that's one of my favorites and on the Goodreads list I linked to...

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  11. I want to read both of these! I've heard Love Letters lacked a bit...like the character was too young or something? I think I might struggle with The Summer of Letting Go, though. Grief books always make me cry...!

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    1. I don't remember how old Laurel is, but she didn't seem too young. And yes, both books are pretty sad, I think LLttD more so....

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  12. I enjoyed The Summer of Letting Go but didn't love it for some reason. That's another book I never got around to writing a review for but plan to. I have a copy of Love Letters to the Dead that I haven't gotten to yet but I don't know, for some reason I'm not too excited to read it. I'm a little concerned some of the reasons you mentioned it didn't completely work for you will bother me too.

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  13. I just finished Summer of Letting Go and enjoyed but wasn't completely blown away but I agree it is hard for me to get a feeling of conclusion and somethings flow with books written in letter.

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  14. I haven't read any of these and I don't think I will because the subject matter doesn't really interest me. But I am glad that you enjoyed them. Great post!

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  15. Hey, I was just thinking that it was interesting that you did this Compare and Contrast and that's the book I ended up being reviewed with in the New York Times. You have your finger on the pulse, don't you, girly? <3 xox gae

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