by Brigid Kemmerer
Published on April 4, 2017
Source: ARC from publisher for review
Synopsis 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.My take: In a weird coincidence, the last two books I've read were You've-Got-Mail-ish -- about two characters who communicate anonymously, then later meet in real life. So, as I said in my last review, a book like this a) inevitably involves some measure of coincidence and then b) has to negotiate how and when each character figures out who the other character is in real life.
I thought Letters to the Lost handled this way more believably than Alex, Approximately. Without spoilers, I will reveal that in this book, one of the characters does figure out the identity of the other, creating a lot of tension in the story. Yes, there was an initial contrivance -- as described in the synopsis, Juliet leaves letters on her mom's grave and Declan just happens to be serving community service at the cemetery. And they attend the same school. But beyond that, the anonymous letter writing worked for me.
Letters to the Lost was also a way darker and more emotionally intense book. Alex, Approximately does have two characters who've suffered past trauma, but at heart it's really a rom-com, while the emotional impact of Letters to the Lost is huge. It features three realistically drawn characters in a lot of pain, and the reader really feels that.
While I'm not a fan of the "romance can heal all wounds" trope, I didn't really feel that happening here. Declan and Juliet first meet through increasingly heartfelt letters and emails, then form a wary relationship at school without a hint of romance. Their relationship in real life grows very slowly from mutual mistrust to grudging friendship to just the sparks of romance.
The family relationships here were interesting too -- widowers, step-parents and foster parents all with varying degrees of emotional warmth and support. I also loved the supportive teachers that appeared in the book!
Really enjoyed this a lot and highly recommend it to those who enjoy emotionally charged stories!