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Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: A Love Letter to the Un-Epistolary Novel

2013 April 26
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by Flickr user donovanbeeson

by Flickr user donovanbeeson

With today’s technology, we can connect instantly with anyone around the world, but there is still a certain mystique to the tactile experience of snail mail. Texting and e-mail just can’t quite replace the thrill of opening your mailbox to discover a treasure nestled among the bills and junk mail — a handwritten thank-you note, a postcard from an exotic locale, or even a love letter. The use of letters to tell a story is also a time-honored literary tradition that often appears in YA. Some books are written entirely or mostly in letters, like the ones in Hannah Gómez’s roundup of epistolary novels earlier this month, but others feature letters in another way. In honor of Card and Letter Writing Month, here are some YA novels where letters make up only a small part of the text, but are still a big part of the story.

  • Heaven by Angela Johnson (2003 Popular Paperbacks, 1999 Coretta Scott King Award)
    Fourteen-year-old Marley has lived in the idyllic small town of Heaven, Ohio for longer than she can remember and enjoys getting letters from her Uncle Jack, who describes to her all the places that he sees in his travels. Then one day another letter arrives — one that reveals a secret — and Marley’s whole world collapses as she discovers that everything she knows about herself and her family is based on a lie. Bobby and Feather from The First Part Last (2004 Printz) appear as secondary characters. Fans of that book will be delighted to find out what has become of them, and those who have not read it yet will likely go seek it out to discover their story.
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2012 Teens’ Top Ten)
    Jacob Portman has believed for years that his grandfather’s stories of magical children hunted by terrifying monsters were made up, until the night his grandfather is murdered by a hideous creature only Jacob can see. With his last breath, Grandpa Portman gives Jacob a cryptic message, admonishing him to find the letter. When he does discover a letter hidden among his grandfather’s things, it leads him to a mysterious island and the orphanage his grandfather grew up in, where he meets the “peculiar” children from the stories. There, Jacob is faced with an evil only he can stop and a choice that will determine his destiny. More letters come later in the book.
  • Guitar Notes by Mary Amato
    On the surface, cello prodigy Lyla Marks and laidback rocker Tripp Brody could not be more different. They pass each other at school each day, never realizing how much they have in common — their love of music, the loss of a parent, the overwhelming weight of loneliness and guilt. When circumstances lead to the two of them using the same practice room on alternating days, what starts out as a series of snarky notes tucked between the strings of a battered guitar soon leads to a heartfelt correspondence and a life-changing friendship. This sweet story is told mostly through artifacts, including the handwritten notes themselves.
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson (2006 Best Books for Young Adults, 2006 Teens’ Top Ten, 2009 Popular Paperbacks; 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
    Shy, reserved Ginny has never been one to take chances, except when her adventurous Aunt Peg was there to push her out of her comfort zone. Now, almost two years after Aunt Peg disappeared from her life without warning and months after receiving word of her untimely death, Ginny gets a package containing 13 little blue envelopes. In each one is a letter with instructions from her aunt. The letters send Ginny first to London and then on a journey across Europe, retracing the route of Aunt Peg’s last adventure. Along the way, she meets new friends, finds romance, and discovers a side of herself she never knew existed. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but suffice it to say that, due to circumstances beyond her control, Ginny never gets to read the last letter — until an e-mail from a total stranger sends her off on another adventure to retrieve it in the sequel. These are probably the ultimate letter books!

What are your favorite YA books featuring snail mail? If you know of a good one I missed, please leave a comment. And before April ends, use the inspiration to sit down and a write someone special an old-fashioned letter!

– Wendy Daughdrill, currently reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

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2 Responses
  1. April 26, 2013

    Nice list! From my own list of letter favorites: SAME SUN HERE by Silas House and Neela Vaswani. Oh, and also KIZZY ANN STAMPS by Jeri Watts. Both titles from Candlewick.

  2. April 26, 2013

    This is the perfect complement to my post. Hurrah for mysterious, catalyst letters!

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