Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 4th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
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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.
I was originally incredible excited to start this book, as passing anonymous letters and the writers slowly falling in love is such a heartwarming trope that makes my heart skip a beat. However, this book didn’t resonate with me and I seem to be of the few that was disappointed by it. I think this happened because I guess I expected a bit more. The exploration of grief was done well in the story, but overall I didn’t really connect to the characters, despite their rather realistic and down-to-earth characterizations.
We begin the story with Juliet’s narrative on how she wrote to her mother, who was a war photographer who recently died. Writing to her mother’s grave is like a catharsis to her – something that helps, even as therapy from school doesn’t. Readers clearly see the connection Juliet has with her mother, which is quite profound and is why this death was very hard for her. While Juliet holds her mother on a high pedestal, throughout the story she actually unravels some secrets of her mom, showcasing how people aren’t perfect in a very bittersweet tone. But despite it, these events really reinforce Juliet’s relationship with her father, which was quite lovely to see.
I’d always write her back. Sometimes she wouldn’t get them for weeks, after they’d filtered their way through her editor to wherever she was on assignment. Sometimes she was home, and I could hand her the letter on my way out the door. It didn’t matter. We just thought on paper to each other.
So, one thing I was a bit miffed about was while these teenage characters were written quite thoroughly, I was just a tinyyy bit frustrated with their actions. In the beginning, Juliet kind of lashes out because of the pain she’s dealing with, and her only solace becomes the anonymous writer who sent her back a reply when she left a letter to her mother. You really see her despair and sense of worthlessness, as she can’t even get herself to pick up a camera and resume photoshoots. The little letters she sends to and from Declan are really gems of the book. They discuss in-depth the circumstances that have led them to their places in their respective lives, as well as find a mutual understanding on the loss that each is facing. These letters are actually quite poignant and really helped with developing the relationship. As the letters progress, they also encounter each other more in real life. But the only question is – are they up for finding out the other’s identity?
You want to know what I believe? I believe in fate, but I also believe in free will. Meaning, there’s a path, but we’re free to veer away from it. The only problem is that there’s no way to know whose path we’re following at any given moment.
As a reader it was a tad frustrating to see them touch toes but then flee (metaphorically of course) when meeting in real life, especially when the truth was literally in front of their faces. While that happened, their slowwww burnnn romance and character growth happens as well. And when I mean slow, I mean it really paces itself throughout the total 400 pages of the book. I wasn’t impressed by how Juliet and Declan acted at first, but after a decent amount of time and interaction their characters do grow. As they start to live and learn and love, the romance also slowly progresses as well. I can’t say I was fully onboard, however, just because of the fact that I couldn’t really connect to either character. From a reading standpoint, they were great and both learned lessons after going through the consequences of their actions. From a person standpoint, I just couldn’t see myself really friends with them, even after the character progression. And for me, that kind of solidifies how engaged I am with the story. Add to it the 400-page storyline, and you get a bit of a slow plot that kind of drags around the middle. I do feel as if I would have been more captivated if chunks of the middle were taken off, just because some stuff really wasn’t necessary and just reinforced the characters’ feelings from the very beginning of the book.
I was also a bit disgruntled when reading how Juliet compared her grief to the subject of her mother’s photographs near the beginning, which were focused on war zones and poverty in majority world countries. There are different types of grief, and the way Juliet compared hers to the subjects (mostly children I believe) was just a bit overdone. I really think there could have been a better way to express the sorrow she was feeling; although overall, her rather lashing-out behavior overall told that more than anything.
And yet despite this, I really did think this was a good book. For me though, it just wasn’t a stand-out. Juliet and Declan are very real, very honest, and very raw characters. Their relationship progresses emotionally more than anything, with a build-up from hesitancy to trust to something perhaps a bit more. There are two side characters who are getting a companion book, which I’m actually pretty excited to read because I enjoyed their little bits and pieces of dialogue in this book. Despite being a story dealing with loss, I’m happy to report that there is some unexpected lightness and humor in it that saw the brighter things in life.
Letters to the Lost wasn’t a stand-out contemporary for me, but it did deliver on the feels. Readers may be frustrated at times, but it’s well worth the read for the super slow burn romance and the extreme character progression that both Juliet and Declan experience. There is a heavy emphasis on family, as well as what’s left after a loved one has passed away, and the sweet feeling that you’re not alone in the world, as someone – be it a friend or family or otherwise – is there for you.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thank you Bloomsbury Publishing for the review copy!
This book is out in Australian bookstores for $19.99 RRP.