Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Series: Letters to the Lost #1
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 1681190087
ISBN 13: 9781681190082
Published: April 2017
Pages: 400
Format reviewed: eVersion
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: More Than We Can Tell (Letters to the Lost #2)

I devoured these two books today. They remind me a lot of Australia’s own Fiona Wood – novels that contain late teens who are going through some pretty heavy stuff, and the books both don’t speak down and belittle their crisis, nor do they make the issue so all encompassing that there’s no hope and everything is just drugs and rape – because my god, am I sick of those types of books from when I was a teen, it’s like all there was.

In this, we have Juliet. Her mother was a photojournalist until she was killed in a hit-and-run coming home from the airport – she survived taking photos in the worst war-torn parts of the world to then be taken by something as simple yet cruel (as they never find out who killed her) as that. Juliet copes by writing letters and leaving them at her mother’s grave – carrying on something they did while the mother was travelling – but her privacy is torn apart by Declan. He’s a youth on reprimand, having to do community service after a brush with the law, that requires him to mow the lawns in the cemetery. He reads her letter and, without thinking, adds his own few words to it, sharing his grief. He’s lost his sister to his own father’s drink-driving, but through their initial meetings Juliet is just pissed that he dares to assume he knows of her grief.

When they work out that they understand each other on a level that most of the kids in their year at school don’t, they build a friendship that gets firmer as the novel progresses. For the majority of the novel they don’t really meet – they correspond via letters left at the grave for a while before progressing to anonymous email accounts to speed things up. And from there, we have a quite dignified and sometimes anguished look at grief, responsibility, and how your world can be turned all up in more than a few ways. When a single event eclipses your entire life for a year or more how do you handle it if suddenly everything you thought you knew about this was then shaken up?

Declan and Juliet’s ability to discuss, consider, and put everything aside to be there for each other through everything is what drives this novel. It’s about acceptance and respect.

With Juliet and Declan we also have Rev – Declan’s neighbour and best mate, who’s had a pretty awful life also… who the second book then takes hold of. We’ll talk of him in the next review post. Juliet’s best mate, Rowan, who means well in the majority of what she does, but plays an integral role into how we interact and treat others based on appearances and rumours.

Something that is touched upon in this novel and also what always got me riled up in school is how if there’s two kids in an ‘incident’, and one is ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’, you can bet they’ll both be told off at the most but the bad will be sent to the principal’s office or into detention, and the good will be told to take their seat. It’s expected that regardless of whether that situation itself is dealt out to its finality – and whether the bad student just happened to be there or actually did have a hand in the issue, they’ll nearly always at least share the blame. It’s a bit ridiculous. And parts like these make the novel seem utterly realistic to the teenage environment.