In this time of social distancing and forced isolation, we’re rediscovering what it means to keep your connections with family, friends, and other loved ones from afar. Be it FaceTime, Zoom, social media, or texting, we’re remembering the power and influence that the written word can have in our personal lives. Kerri Turner, author of The Daughter of Victory Lights and The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, has assembled a list of books which showcase characters who establish or maintain their relationships—be it romantic, platonic, or familial—from afar.
P.S. I Love You, Cecelia Ahern
A story about a husband who communicates with his wife after his death. Gerry knows how much his wife Holly is going to struggle after his passing, so he arranges a series of letters to be delivered to her: one to be opened every month, and each with an instruction for Holly to follow. The aim is to help Holly move through her grief and continue to live a full life. A touching and thoughtful story which shows how our words can linger even after we’re gone.
Sorcery and Cecelia, Patricia C. Wede and Caroline Stevermer
This book has the remarkable backstory of having started as a game between the two authors. They wrote letters to one another, each posing as a fictional character in Regency-era England—albeit a Regency England in which magic is real and practiced at a Royal College of Wizards. The result of their game is an epistolary novel in which the two central characters maintain a friendship which echoes the real-life one of the women who wrote them.
Daddy-Long-Legs, Jean Webster
A 1912 novel later turned into a film starring Fred Astaire, it treats readers to the letters of Judy Abbott to her unnamed benefactor. Judy is a college student, a position which is made possible thanks to the generosity of a man she doesn’t know by name, and thus refers to as ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’—a man whose only requirement in exchange for funding her studies is a monthly letter. Letters that Judy is only too happy to write, as she details the most exciting events of her life and ruminates on the identity of the mysterious man who never writes her back.
Attachments, Rainbow Rowel
Lincoln O’Neill’s job is to read other people’s emails to ensure they aren’t breaking company policy. He’s particularly drawn to the exchanges between Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder—exchanges that definitely don’t abide by the rules. But Lincoln can’t bring himself to report them. For the emails are entertaining, candid, and supportive—and before long, Lincoln finds himself falling for one of the women behind the typed words.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
When the island of Guernsey comes under German occupation during WW2, a number of citizens form the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Their aim is to read and discuss books while trying to swallow the awful potato peel pie made from the trimmings of their rationed food. Londoner Juliet Ashton starts swapping letters with the members of the Guernsey club, and through these exchanged messages we find out what happened during those tough years. This book was also made into a movie which captures the warmth and heart of a truly unique tale.
Lady Susan, Jane Austen
As sharply-drawn as any of her other books, this lesser-known work from the classic writer is written in the epistolary style and treats us to the captivating and manipulative character of Lady Susan. She has two aims in life: to marry her daughter to money, and to marry a wealthy man herself. There’s little Lady Susan won’t do to achieve her ends, and so skilled is she that those around her find themselves confused as to whether she is a clever social climber or an admirable woman down on her luck. The reader is treated to both perspectives through various letter writers, and only in the end do we find out the truth.
Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon
Madeline has a rare disease that essentially leaves her allergic to everything. She lives her whole life confined to her house. But when a boy named Olly moves in next door, things begin to change. The two find themselves falling for one another, but by necessity it has to be from afar. So they get to know each other any way they can: through written notes and online messaging.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
When teenage Bee’s mother, the intelligent shut-in Bernadette Fox, goes missing after a disastrous school fundraiser, it is up to Bee to piece together clues as to her whereabouts. The clues come in every form of written word, from emails to school memos and even invoices. But it’s not just her mother’s location Bee will uncover—there’s a secret Bernadette has been hiding for decades.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han
Teenager Lara Jean isn’t great at communicating her romantic feelings. Every time she’s had a crush, she wrote a letter to the subject of her admiration, addressed but never sent. Imagine her horror then when she discovers someone has got hold of her letters and sent them all. The boys who receive her love letters have different responses, but one thing remains common: Lara Jean’s written words open up real-life communication. Be sure to also check out the delightful Netflix adaptation of this young adult novel.
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt, Caroline Preston
A little different from the others on this list, this book is also scrapbook. Made from a collection of real-life memorabilia including postcards, magazine ads, ticket stubs, candy wrappers, menus and more, these all combine to create a full-colour tale of one ambitious woman’s journey from Vassar to Greenwhich Village to Paris in the 1920’s. Totally original and a stunning visual spectacle.