{Review} LETTERS TO THE LOST by Brigid Kemmerer

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Letters to the Lost
  THERE'S THIS PHOTOGRAPH I can't get out of my mind. A little girl in a flowered dress is creaming in the dark. Blood is everywhere: on her cheeks, on her dress, in spattered droplets on the ground. A gun is pointed at the dirt road beside her, and you can't see the man, but you can see his boots. You showed it to me years ago, telling me about the photographer who got the shot, but all I remember is the scream and the flowers and the blood and the gun.

Her parents took a wrong turn or something. In a war zone, maybe. Was it Iraq? I think it was Iraq. It's been awhile and I'm fuzzy on the history of it. They took a wrong turn, and some spooked soldiers starting firing at the car. Her parents were killed instantly.

The little girl was lucky.


I don't know.

At first glance you see the horror because it's so perfectly etched in the girl's expression.

Then you see the details. The blood. The flowers. The gun. The boots.

Some of your photographs are equally gripping. I should probably be thinking of your work. It seems wrong to be leaning against your headstone and thinking about someone else's talent.

I can't help it.

You can see it on her face. Her reality is being ripped away, and she knows it.

Her mother is gone, and she knows it.

There is agony in that picture.

Every time I look at it, I think, "I know exactly how she feels."

(pg. 1, US E-ARC edition)

“I suddenly want to apologize for the way all of our interactions have gone. The misunderstandings weren't entirely my fault, but I think he knows that, too. He's guarded, like I am. I can let a few links out of my armor—especially since he offered a small degree of trust, without asking for anything in return. It's so unexpected."


Grief is an emotion, a life experience, an agonized state of being that is universally understood. There is not a person alive who has not grieved for something or someone, and we have all dealt with it differently. In times when I have grieved I have leaned on words, and ended up writing a lot of letters; to myself, to the person or thing I'm grieving over. Which is why the synopsis for LETTERS TO THE LOST by Brigid Kemmerer pulled me in with such swift and personal ferocity. I've seen a lot of people compare it to You've Got Mail, and don't get me wrong the whole "anonymity on the internet allows us to connect but hey guess what we know each other in real life where we're a lot less honest and we clash and misunderstand each other" is very very present and beautifully done in this book. But the most important thing LETTERS TO THE LOST explores is the idea that the road to healing can come through such unexpected venues, that it takes courage and belief in forgiveness in yourself and others. The process itself doesn't always feel good, but going through it is important. What the characters in this book, Juliet and Declan, go through as individuals on a path to forward motion, is raw and the underlying heartbeat of the whole book.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It all starts with a letter. One that Juliet leaves on her mother's grave. She is a girl that has caved in on herself and her loss, she's gone all quiet and detached and introspectively grey inside. Declan, on the other hand, is vibrant red, pouring his grief into anger, into actions that have gained him a reputation as a bad boy. In different ways they have both ostracized themselves, which is what they want and what they don't want all at once. Kemmerer depicts this so beautiful, between the letters Declan and Juliet end up writing each other, and their internal banter as they navigate their real lives outside of the anonymous bubble of safety they've created with each other.  Though the narrative these characters pour themselves piece by piece onto the page and into the readers heart, and I can't tell you how many times I had to pause my reading because I couldn't see the page anymore. The pacing of this story is perfect and gosh darn it I LOVE THE FORMATTING. Each chapter starts with a letter or an email, or a text formatted convo and then flawless shifts into a pov response to it. At first there's a palpable difference in the way Juliet and Declan are via their anonymous communication and the guarded people they become when they try to fill the empty spaces in their day to day lives. It's heartbreaking to view, and that sorrow is felt as strongly in little seemingly innocent moments as it is when they are pouring their broken hearts out towards each other.

Neither of these characters mean to connect with each other. That first reply Declan gives to Juliet is spur of the moment, an instinctual response to an understood wound. It's fate or chance or luck or whatever word you want to use, but the rest of the story is on them. See the cool thing about these characters is that they challenge each other to step out of their comfort zones. It's purposeful in their anonymous communications, but when they collide unknowingly in real life it happens again. There's an electricity between them that says "No more hiding, no more self sabotage, connect with the world again." Even in the moments when they're fighting and throwing insults at each other there's this sense that Juliet and Declan wake each other up and make each other feel something other than that dead weight of grief.

Does Declan end up the Tom Hanks to Juliet's Meg Ryan? Maybe, maybe not. But no matter what from the first page you realize they have a profound influence on each other's journey through a terrible pain. Kemmerer will make you feel like you are a fly on the wall during real conversations, she will make you want to reach into the pages and hold the characters when they are overwhelmed. Like me, you might remember times in your own life when you have dealt with grief, and there can be something wholly cathartic in that. Between the tears there are little moments that make you smile or coo at the ink on the pages, and basically the human condition is explored with a tenderness that will stick with you after you've turned the final page. Pick up LETTERS TO THE LOST by Brigid Kemmerer and never forget that you make your own path.


Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: ( Kissing)
Language: ( No cursing )
Violence: ( Mentions of death, drunk driving, war )
Other: --
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This cover is stunning, not too busy, and it gains layers and more depth once you've read the book. Letters are such an important theme throughout the story, but the fact that the cover depicts letters in the shape of flowers can also be linked to the fact that the characters in this story use their letters to open up like blooming flora. Yeah, I just hit myself right in the feels.
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Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Release Date: April 4th, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Received: Purchased


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.