Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

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Title: Letters to the Lost
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Pages: 400
Source: ARC provided by Raincoast Books
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Overall: 4 STARS

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.

Juliet Young's mother was a renowned photojournalist who traveled the world documenting countries torn apart by war. Since she was more often thousands of miles away on assignment than not, Juliet got in the habit of exchanging letters with her mom from a young age. And now that her mother is gone, killed in a hit-and-run accident on the way home from the airport months ago, Juliet still continues to write her letters and leave them at her grave.

Declan Murphy is doing his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery when he stumbles upon a letter beside a grave. He immediately connects to the haunting words and leaves a reply. At first, Juliet is stunned and angry that someone could read something so personal, and writes back in turn. But soon enough, Juliet and Declan are exchanging letters and emails daily, sharing their fears and secrets and hopes as their connection deepens. Anonymity is both freeing and safe, allowing them to share their most raw thoughts and feelings. 

But neither Juliet nor Declan are aware they're not actually strangers in real life, that their paths have already crossed in school. Juliet is trusted by her teachers, the good girl going through a tough time. Declan is the troubled bad boy with a reputation, who most have written-off as not going far in life. Juliet feels like nobody understands the depth of her grief, that everyone just wants her to move on. And Declan feels like the world is against him, and it makes him lash out in defense. They're both struggling and trying to cope with their grief, lost in self-recrimination and wishing they could change the past. 

Sometimes I just really wanted to reach into the pages and give both Juliet and Declan a comforting hug. They each have supportive best friends—Rowan and Revwho pull them from their melancholy, yet they still feel utterly alone. They don't know how to ask for the help or second chances they desperately need, so they make mistakes and push others away. You just know that Declan and Juliet need to come to terms with everything the hard way as they learn for themselves that sometimes it's the ones we love the most who let us down and cause the most hurt. 

Heartfelt and poignant, Brigid Kemmerer's Letters to the Lost is a realistic approach to the different ways we experience grief, loss, and healing. I loved the positive and influential roles portrayed by Declan and Juliet's teachers, who were patient and helped their students by recognizing their worth. And even Frank, Declan's "supervisor" at the cemetary, for looking beyond appearances. I wouldn't consider Letters to the Lost a romantic story, yet there is still much friendship and love to be found. I would absolutely recommend the book to fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout, Sarah Dessen and Katie McGarry in a heartbeat.     

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