Book Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer cover

Letters to the Lost
by Brigid Kemmerer
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: April 4th 2017
Rating: adult supervision present

Letters to the Lost is a story that is based on letters and emails but isn't limited to them.  Declan Murphy, a boy with a bad reputation, starts corresponding with Juliet Young after he finds a letter she wrote to her mother in a cemetery.  They don't know one another's identities, but this anonymity makes it easier to tell one another truths about themselves and their lives.

I like the characters. This book is definitely a character novel rather than a plot-based novel.  Things happened, but the plot is much less important than what is going on inside each of them.  My favorite.  Declan and his best friend Rev are the standouts for me.  I loved Rev so much that I wouldn't mind a sequel for him.  I never want that. There was just something heartbreaking about his tough/vulnerable dichotomy.  I appreciate that Brigid Kemmerer allowed her characters to be flawed.  Declan has a habit of taking offense and losing his temper sometimes without reason, and Juliet is sometimes self-absorbed and judgmental.  The writing is strong enough that you understand their poor choices and aren't frustrated by them.

We’re all united by grief, and somehow divided by the same thing.

There is a strong theme of reputation and expectations.  How do we respond to how the people around us see us? What does it take for perspectives to change? Both Declan and Juliet are constrained by a predetermined definition of who they are. The definition is partly defined and upheld by themselves. Much of their journey lies in figuring out that both they and the people around them are infinitely more complex that the narrow vision that they have of them.

Recently there was a situation at my school where a student asked for help dealing with a home situation.  One thing that my school really values and puts a premium on is relationships.  And while day to day it does make for a great learning and working environment, more importantly, it allowed a twelve-year-old boy to know that if he reached out, he would get help. Bear with me. I swear this relates to Letters to the Lost. I happened to be finishing up this book at the time and what I found both unusual and heartening was the amount of positive, healthy adult interaction. Shout out to the English teacher who differentiates an assignment because of *gasp that it what the student needs.  How often does that happen in YA? Especially in a book that deals with death, abuse, foster care, and let's face it, high school. Sometimes there MIGHT just be one adult who cares but overall adults are not to be trusted. In this book, almost every adult when clearly communicated with had the best of intentions and was willing to support and help as best they could.  There needs to be more of this in YA.  YA is supposed to be for teenagers. Or preteens such as my students.  Adults might like it and read it but we are are the not the target audience.  When all the books show adults as monsters, users, incompetent, or absent what message are we sending them? Especially those that need help? I am glad that Letters to the Lost managed to subvert that trope. 

Brigid Kemmerer's other books seem to be something along the line of YA elemental urban fantasy. I am not super interested in them but I will be on the lookout for her next book.

Have you read Letters to the Lost?  What did you think? Are you a fan of epistolary novels?


From Goodreads:

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.