Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano – review

Published by Viking

Publication date – 20 February 2020

Source – review copy

Los Angeles. There are 192 passengers aboard: among them a young woman taking a pregnancy test in the airplane toilet; a Wall Street millionaire flirting with the air hostess; an injured soldier returning from Afghanistan; and two beleaguered parents moving across the country with their adolescent sons, bickering over who gets the window seat. When the plane suddenly crashes in a field in Colorado, the younger of these boys, 12-year-old Edward Adler, is the sole survivor.

Dear Edward depicts Edward’s life in the crash’s aftermath as he struggles to make sense of the meaning of his survival, the strangeness of his sudden fame, and find his place in the world without his family. In his new home with his aunt and uncle, the only solace comes from his friendship with the girl next door, Shay. Together Edward and Shay make a startling discovery: hidden in his uncle’s garage are sacks of letters from the relatives of the other passengers, addressed to Edward.

As Edward comes of age against the backdrop of sudden tragedy, he must confront some of life’s most profound questions: how do we make the most of the time we are given? And what does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

A flight from New York to Los Angeles. 192 passengers and crew on board. Each one with a different reason for the journey. Each one resigned to spending 6 hours in an enclosed space and each one either eager, or reluctant to reach their destination. What they don’t know is that none of them will reach L.A. and that only one of them will get to decide where he wants to go in the future.

When a tragedy occurs, the sympathy quite rightly goes to those who died. Those left behind get fleeting sympathy. In Dear Edward we see that when a loved one dies, so does part of the life of the victims families. An ex-husband is no longer a sparring partner or an estranged father. He is now someone who was once loved and a missed opportunity at reconciliation. When a girlfriend dies she is no longer a future wife and mother. And when you are a 12 year old boy who is the sole survivour you have to discover who you now are, rather than who you could have been.

Edward is no longer Eddie. Eddie was left behind at the crash site. Eddie was a brother to Jordan, was home schooled by his dad Bruce and kept his mother Jane awake at night as a baby. Edward is an orphan, the sole child now being raised by his aunt and uncle.

As Edward recovers from his external injuries he also has to learn how to cope with the unseen ones. He is detached from his surroundings, become aware only slowly that he has lived his life since the crash in a fugue state, hardly aware of the passage of time. He finds solace in Shay, his next door neighbour. She doesn’t tiptoe around him, in the way only another 12 year old can. She wonders aloud if he has magical powers like Harry Potter, her adolescent way of making him focus on himself. She is the one he turns to from the first day he goes to live with his aunt and uncle. She is the one who keeps him grounded and the one he turns to when he finds the letters addressed to him from the families of the other passengers.

The reader sees Edward as he takes steps towards some semblance of a normal life. He recovers from his physical injuries and slowly he starts to life this alternate, unforeseen life. Chapters focusing on the flight are alternated with chapters after. During the flight we are given insight into a few of the characters, an injured army personnel, dealing with the fallout of a fight with a friend, the Adler family, making a move across the country, a young, rich executive finding a new direction to his life a little too late, a young woman who has finally made the step to commitment, a woman running away from her current life and an old man, facing his mortality in another way. Each show the wasted opportunities, the what ifs and the should haves. More impacting are perhaps the almost throwaway lines that describe the other passengers. 191 people die and it is a line about hearing the crying babies and complaining toddlers that sticks in the mind.

The reader knows from the outset that the plane will crash. As the story develops we await the inevitable impact. In truth, the story impacts throughout.

A story about a plane crash that kills 191 is going to be sad. Most of all it is poignant. The reader hears the regrets of the passengers, the lives not yet lived. Then there are the families of the victims. As Edward and Shay read more letters from them, the impact on those left behind is made all the more real and the deaths all the more tragic because of it. But through the letters Edward finds a release and more importantly the freedom to live, to realise he has a purpose in life and that he should not feel guilty for enjoying it.

A moving story on what it means to survive and to be alive.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. I like the sound of this, it’s a really clever idea for a story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      It is. I hope you like it if you read it. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. heavenali says:

    What an interesting sounding novel, it sounds really quite compelling and very poignant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Poignant is the perfect word for it. It leaves a lot of food for thought.


  3. What a great premise – sounds like it’s done quite thoughtfully too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      It is done very thoughtfully. It makes perfect sense to look at a tragedy from the perspective of those left behind.


  4. This has been sitting on my shelf for a while, I might have to start reading it now. Thank you for a great insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I do hope you enjoy it when you read it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. JacquiWine says:

    It’s good to see your take on this novel. Napolitano gave a short presentation about it at a Penguin showcase I went to last autumn, and it sounded very heartfelt and compelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      It is heartfelt. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy something that should be said but it really doesn’t read as a sad book.


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