Elise’s mother died when Elise was born during a complicated pregnancy. Elise’s father died shortly afterwards after a fight with cancer. Up until her 12th birthday, Elise had received a letter each year on her birthday that her father had written before his death. When entering into 6th grade, Elise hits a rough patch. She’s constantly behind in school, her locker partner is mean to her everyday, and Elise’s relationship with her best friend from childhood is on thin ice. Throughout the course of the first term of school, Elise stumbles upon eight keys left for her by her deceased father. Each key unlocks rooms and family histories that she had nearly forgotten.
The whole letters-from-beyond really seems to be a theme in books. There was PS I Love You by Cecila Ahern that may have started the whole thing. I know 13 Letters follows the same concept. This book though, is a little different.
The story is really sweet and I think girls entering the dreaded tween years will really relate to Elise. I like how delicately Lafleur touches on the bullying issue in the book. It’s very subtle, but also says a lot about the culture clashes in schools that most adults just don’t see. Every morning, Amanda smashes Elise’s lunch under a pile of textbooks. Amanda calls Elise names, and even once smashed the locker door on Elise’s fingers. Trying to cope with the large amount of school work, and Amanda’s bullying is a lot for Elise to handle. She takes out her frustration on her friendship with Franklin, putting a strain on their friendship for the first 3 months of the school year.
The messages and the rooms in the attic left by Elise’s dad are very sweet concepts. I won’t disclose the contents, but each room was just the thing Elise needed to help her figure out who is she, and what she wants to be. Each inspirational message left behind from her dad related to one of Elise’s problems in school, and helped guide her towards the right, although sometimes wrong, way of handling the situations.
I liked the supporting characters in the book as well. Although Franklin just seemed really young for his character. He acted more like a little kid constantly craving sweets that his mother won’t allow. Caroline is a great character too, very much a role model and support system that Elise needed to get through school.
I also really like that Elise isn’t the shy bookworm getting picked on at school. That seems too easy sometimes. Elise doesn’t read for fun, isn’t good at school, and just doesn’t know what to do with herself. She’s at a cross-roads for the majority of the book in terms of her interests and hobbies. I think it makes her much more approachable to reluctant readers.