Goodreads: Letters to the Lost
Series: Letters to the Lost #1
Published: April 2017
Juliet is still processing the death of her mother, a photojournalist, by visiting her grave and leaving her letters. Declan Murphy is serving a community service sentence by mowing the cemetery. When Declan finds Juliet’s letter, he writes back and soon the two are revealing things they cannot reveal to anything else. But as they get to know each other, they also begin to worry that the truth about their pasts may be too much for them to handle.
“One day isn’t your whole life. A day is just a day.
Letters to the Lost breaks all the rules of YA romance. Switching between the perspectives of Juliet, a girl mourning her dead mother, and Declan, a boy struggling with the things he’s done in his past, the story rejects the ideas that love happens easily and that love conquers all. Rather, it shows how love is a struggle and how love only transforms when it leads to change. With its raw look at the real, Letters to the Lost is a beautiful, heartbreaking romance.
YA romances tend to follow a standard outline. A girl who feels unwanted and unsure finds herself falling in love with a boy who may seem hard on the outside, but who is secretly vulnerable and sympathetic on the inside. A mistake briefly draws them apart before they announce their love for each other again at the end of the story. It is cliche and predictable, but readers often like a story that feels comfortable because it safe.
Letters to the Lost does not give readers this narrative. Instead, it offers a story balanced equally between a boy trying to find himself and a girl wondering if she is ready to move on. Both are hurting and both will eventually find that a sympathetic ear can make all the difference. But they do not let love define their lives to the point where nothing else matters. They continue to struggle with family, friends, and school. Their relationship works, not because they are “saving” each other, as if one could ever do that for someone else, but because they give each other a safe place to speak and they draw strength from that. They fight for everything, from maintaining their friendships to figuring out who they want to be.
With its depiction of family and friends, Letters to the Lost immediately sets itself apart. Neither character lives in an ideal world, but they eventually realize that their parents may not be the enemy, that even adults struggle to communicate sometimes. And both have important friendships in their lives and they talk about more than their new romance. The friendship between Declan and Rev is one of my favorite depictions of male friendship in YA as they are open with each other about their pasts and theirs fears, but they also take time to discuss things like the existence of God. As a result of scenes like these, one senses that Declan and Juliet are more than a couple in love; they are people with communities, with lives.
Letters to the Lost has a companion book More Than We Can Tell. However, Brigid Kemmerer’s characters are so beautifully drawn that two books are simply not enough. I hope we see much more of her work in the future.