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Say Your Peace

Two broken souls find each other in an unusually morbid way in Brigid Kemmerer’s new novel, Letters to the Lost.

Say Your Peace

BOOK REPORT for Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Cover Story: Symbolic
BFF Charm: Yay and Platinum
Swoonworthy Scale: 8
Talky Talk: You’ve Got Mail
Bonus Factors: Awesome Grownups, Photography, Car Mechanics, Foster System, Poetry
Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: Pen Pals

Cover Story: Symbolic

The paper flowers are pretty, and initially I’m not quite sure what they have to do with the book. I suppose if I was trying to get all English-class about it, they are flowers made out of the letters Juliet and Declan write to each other, and the flower portion symbolizes a bouquet of flowers you may give to someone who has lost a loved one, an attempt to bring them peace and comfort, which their letters are trying to do. So…okay, fine. You win this time, cover designers.

The Deal:

Delinquent. Dangerous. Deviant.

There’s not much you can say about him that Declan hasn’t heard before. He’s gotten pretty good at heaving an “eff you” back at a world that has already seemed to have written him off, so when he finds a letter left by a gravestone at the cemetery where he works off his court-mandated community service, he’s shocked to find himself empathizing with another human being. Before he can help himself, he writes back; just a simple two-word sentence tossed out into the void.

Except someone else does read it: Juliet, the letter writer. She’s shocked and furious that someone has had the nerve to read her private thoughts, left there for her photojournalist mother who died in a hit-and-run earlier that summer. How dare someone else pretend to understand the grief she is feeling? Before she can help herself, she writes a scathing letter back to the interloper.

And thus starts an exchange that may end up changing both of their lives permanently. 

BFF Charm: Yay and Platinum

Juliet is so adrift within her grief that she feels like she’s interacting with the world behind a bubble. The girl she was before her mom died feels like an old sweater that’s too small to fit, and she’s been afraid to pick up a camera since that day. I wanted to scoop her up and tell her everything would be okay, but I know she wouldn’t listen. But I see the person she could be once she works through her feelings, and that person could be pretty great.

Declan, oh, sweet Declan. To the outside world, he’s got the MLD persona down pat. Inside, he’s got a mass of feelings wound tighter than a Gordian knot, and the only way he can express them is through anger. His home life—a drunk, irresponsible father and a weak-willed, people-pleasing mother—turned a bright, sensitive kid into a teen full of despair and regret. I wanted to put him in my pocket and shelter him from all the jerks who pre-judged him, but I’m happy that he had an amazing friend like Rev by his side.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

While an MLD has infinite sex appeal, I wager you’d be hard-pressed to find something sexier than a man who can share his feelings. With anonymity firmly in place, Juliet and Declan can wade past pretenses and lay every scary, sad, and angry thought you wouldn’t even tell your best friend out on the table. And that is a rare type of intimacy that can be intoxicating.

Talky Talk: You’ve Got Mail

I knew I had to read this book as soon as I heard about it, because I am a sucker for this trope. Despite the surface similarities, all of these stories go about their reveals and their relationships in unique ways, and Brigid Kemmerer’s You’ve Got Mail attempt is no different. There’s a lot of grief and pain and fear and hopelessness weighing these characters down, but lest you think it’s all bad, there’s also themes of redemption, of finding your own courage, and looking past first impressions. Kemmerer crafted two realistic and layered teens and made you fall for them. I was wholly invested in their letter writing, and every time fate brought them closer together in real life without their knowing, I was dying.

Bonus Factor: Awesome Grownups

I want to make it rain for the great grownups in this book. None of them perform wildly crazy feats of human compassion, but they are there and patient and quietly persistent, and they treat Declan as a real teenage person with complex emotions instead of a permanent screw-up. They are the kind of adults you hope you can one day be.

Bonus Factor: Photography

Juliet’s mom traveled to war-torn countries and took amazing humanitarian shots to shed light on heavy topics. She’s fearless and tenacious, and Juliet worships her and her craft. As someone with a fancy camera that I need to get better at using, all this photography talk made me want to run right outside and start snapping.

Bonus Factor: Car Mechanics

Declan’s dad ran an auto shop and passed along his extensive knowledge to his son. Cars play a big role in the story in multiple ways.

Bonus Factor: Foster System

Rev, Declan’s best friend, had an abusive father when he was younger, but he lucked out in being placed with a wonderful foster (and later, adoptive) family. I have a family friend who, over the last twelve years, has fostered more than three dozen teenage boys and adopted seven of them, and seeing a positive portrayal of the good that the foster system can do warmed my heart.

Bonus Factor: Poetry

Declan’s English teacher is one of those awesome grownups, and she finds a surprising way (to Declan, at least) to connect with him: through poetry. I may side-eye a lot of poetry myself, but there’s no denying that a single, carefully crafted stanza can hit you harder emotionally than some five hundred page books.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting



Declan’s dad is in jail for killing someone and his mom (sort of) blames Declan for it. I don’t think I really need to delve in to the details for you to know these are shitty people.

Juliet's mom, for all her adventuring awesomeness, was an absentee mother most of Juliet’s life. Juliet is too blind by sadness and adulation to see it, but I’m putting this lady on blast for being a crappy parent.

Casting Call:

Margaret Qualley as Juliet

Greg Finley as Declan

Everything I’ve seen Greg in he has a shaved head, but I couldn’t think of anyone else who could still play a teen but look large and alternately menacing or sweet. In the photo above, we’ll just pretend he has reddish brown hair when the light hits it right.

Relationship Status: Pen Pals

You opened up to me, Book. You wore your heart on your sleeve, and you made me cry, but then you made me smile from ear to ear. Your honesty was refreshing and I found myself wanting to reread the letters you wrote to me again and again. I’ll be eagerly refreshing my inbox to see what you say next.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Bloomsbury. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Letters to the Lost is available now.

Stephanie Johnston's photo About the Author: Stephanie is an avid reader who moonlights as a college Educational Advisor. Though she now calls Orlando home, she grew up all over the U.S. Aside from her obsession with YA books and book-related activities, Stephanie loves watching way too much television, reading organizational/DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.