Confiding in dead geniuses helps a teen process her grief and rage.
Everyone in Laurel’s family is processing her sister May’s death differently: Her father retreats into silence; her mother moves to California to work on a ranch; and Laurel herself writes letters to dead luminaries, including Kurt Cobain, Amelia Earhart, Janis Joplin and John Keats. Too gripped by a potent mixture of sadness, guilt and anger to tell her parents what really happened the night May died, Laurel pours her heart out in missives to a growing group of late geniuses. Sensitive and insightful, Laurel reflects on building new friendships and her first love, while also grappling with her memories of May’s death, her worry that she caused it and her anger, too. As she inches slowly toward detailing the truth of May’s death wish and her own survival of grievous harm, Laurel’s understanding of her late correspondents grows more nuanced. Eventually, she sees them in three dimensions, as gifted people crushed by terrible sadness. The epistolary technique is perhaps too effective at building and sustaining narrative tension: Laurel so delays explaining her feelings of responsibility for May’s death that the resolution of her story feels rushed.
A tighter hand would have given more balance to an otherwise effective and satisfyingly heartbreaking melodrama. (Fiction. 12-17)