Dead Letters, by Caite Dolan-Leach, is the story of identical twins Ava and Zelda. If you've frequented my blog, you know how I love a good identical twin story, and this one does not disappoint. However, I'll give you fair warning. It is very dark. This is not an adult version of Sweet Valley High. It's not even a more adult version of the actual adult version of Sweet Valley High. Dead Letters is all about family disfunction, addiction, and identity. It's also a mystery, and while the clues stack up neatly, the ultimate solution will come at a terrible cost.
Ava and Zelda were named thusly because their parents, Marlin and Nadine, decided that their girls contained the entire alphabet between them, that together they represented everything from A to Z, and as a family they now had it all. It turns out they were being overly optimistic. As the years went by, Nadine succumbed to alcoholism and was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia. Marlin left, and by the time the story begins, he's on his third wife and has a new, young family. Ava escaped caring for her mother and the crumbling family vineyard/wine business to study French literature in Paris, after she caught Zelda hooking up with Ava's first love, Wyatt. A barn fire and the apparent death of Zelda causes Ava to return for the first time in two years.
Ava never believes that Zelda is actually dead. She hasn't spoken to Zelda since she left for Paris, but now she has hacked into Zelda's email, and she finds that Zelda is emailing herself messages meant for Ava. Every message has a theme, taken one by one from the letters of the alphabet. And each letter is a clue for how Ava can find Zelda. Along the way, Ava discovers more family secrets and learns some hard truths about herself, about her family, and about her relationship with Wyatt. Ava becomes convinced that Zelda intends to take over Ava's identity, yet she also must figure out exactly what that identity is.
There is no way this story has a neat, tidy, completely happy ending, because the whole point of the book is that life is messy because people and relationships are messy too. Ava spends her whole life trying to be neat and tidy in contrast to Zelda's sloppiness, to be the good twin, with goals and achievements. Yet, she winds up back home, with the same alcohol problems that Zelda and Nadine have, realizing that for all her efforts to escape, she is just as trapped as they are. Towards the novel's ending, Nadine says to Ava, “You know, you can start all kinds of relationships in your life. But you only start life once. And you start it with a limited number of people. Those people, they do something to you.”
This novel examines the beautiful yet scarred relationships we form with the people whom we begin our lives with. It acknowledges the pain we unintentionally inflict upon one another but also the love we seem born to give. The story is bittersweet, just like a fine wine, and it leaves you a lot to contemplate and mull over. It should be sipped rather than chugged. It will leave you a little wiser, and while you'll be happy you read it, you might also be a little sad too.
Despite this, I whole-heartedly recommend Dead Letters.
My Book Reviews
I love novels! My favorite genres are high-end women's fiction, suspense, and psychological thrillers, but occasionally I'll also pick up some chick lit or YA. I mostly read books on my kindle, and I also listen to audio books every morning when I go for my run.