Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thank you, Bloomsbury, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
You were the first person to see all of me, Juliet. The first person who made me feel like I was worth more than a reputation and a record. —Declan
Have you ever experienced the pain of being judged? I bet you have. Sometimes, it can become so hard to ignore what other people say or think about us. We are naturally social beings, conditioned to value our so-called image or reputation. We tend to protect it at all costs in fear of being ostracized by the people in our lives. This shouldn’t be a surprise because we live in a judgmental world, after all.
Letters to the Lost is an insightful exploration of the latter truth. It is the story of Juliet (aka Cemetery Girl) and Declan (aka The Dark), two troubled teenagers who become intimate yet anonymous pen pals. They form a close, cathartic bond through their letters and emails, not knowing that they actually know (and hate) each other in real life. Each has preconceived notions about the other. Juliet sees Declan as a criminal. Declan, on the other hand, sees Juliet as a prima donna. This novel will surely keep you on the edge of your seat as you eagerly wait for them to put two and two together.
Between the two protagonists, Declan was the one who was judged the most. After he crashed his father’s car into a building, people started to see him in a completely negative light. His schoolmates, most of his teachers, and his step-father treated him as a hopeless case, if not someone to be avoided in either fear or contempt. To make things worse, Juliet was initially one of those who couldn’t see beyond his criminal record. In totality, Declan had a miserable life, and reading about it filled my heart with sorrow, as well as a sense of righteous anger. It was frustrating how most of the people in Declan’s life didn’t even bother to understand him nor get to know him.
Declan’s real identity was palpable in his letters/emails as The Dark. He retained his understandably negative outlook on life, but he also showed signs of kindness, intelligence, and even sweetness. His true, adorable character really shone through written communication. Hence, it was sad how most of the people around him caused him to conceal it.
As for Juliet, I found it difficult to like her because she had a tendency to be judgmental. Her prejudices against Declan were often so mean that I found myself wanting to shake her. I was particularly pissed off whenever she took a step away from Declan because she irrationally thought he would hurt or kill her.
Furthermore, I disliked that Juliet was judgmental towards her own father. She idolized her late mother so much that she couldn’t help but see her father as an inferior parent. I felt so smug when a certain plot twist put Juliet to shame. Looking at the bright side, at least Juliet reminded me that it never pays to practice favoritism in your family.
Thankfully, like Declan, Juliet had a much more pleasant attitude in her letters. Since she didn’t know The Dark’s real identity, she was more honest, understanding, and encouraging. This might be insignificant to other readers, but I specifically admired Juliet’s eloquence; her metaphors for pain and loss hit me right in the feels. They were just so evocative!
I cannot end this review without mentioning Rev, Declan’s best friend. Despite his dark/emo facade, Rev was one of my rare sources of happiness in this book. I loved that he grew up in a religious foster family. I grinned when he quoted or alluded to passages from the Bible; I really didn’t care that Declan kinda resented him for doing so. Come to think of it, Rev’s name is not so different from the title “reverend.” Tee-hee. Rev was my favorite character because I admired how he managed to rebuke/edify Declan and “push” him in the right direction. Isn’t that what best friends are for? 😀
Overall, Letters to the Lost was utterly raw and substantial. It was definitely dramatic because Declan and Juliet had so many personal issues to overcome. I enjoyed this book because it perfectly conveyed how our tendency to be judgmental—towards others and ourselves—deprives us of forming meaningful relationships and living life to the fullest. With that in mind, I look forward to reading more of the author’s works.