Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano is a book I have had sitting on my book trolley since the summer of last year, when the gifted copy ( plus very welcome chocolate!) dropped through the letter box.
I haven’t deliberately neglected or avoided this book. Far from it, in fact I have been drawn to it just about every week. Instead I have been saving this book, hoarding it you might say. Because I knew from the premise, the reactions of other trusted bloggers and the overall buzz surrounding it I was going to love it.
And, fickle and rather shallow book beast that I am, when I really love a book I struggle not shout about it almost immediately. So I have waited until just before publication day to read it, and by the time you read this review it will be available for you to enjoy.
191 DIE IN PLANE CRASH; 1 SURVIVOR.
This statement of fact is indeed the crux of this story. It’s the truth at the centre and the catalyst for everything that happens within it.
It is also the reason my husband wrinkled his nose and declared, sarcastically; “Looks like a cheerful book.”
And I suppose that there is every reason to think this might be a dark read, wrapped up in tragedy and fear. But actually nothing could be further from the truth.
The story centres around Edward Alder, a twelve year old boy who is the only survivor of a plane crash in June 2013 which kills 191 others; his father, mother and older brother, Jordon are amongst the dead.
Getting on the plane as a family of 4, flying to begin a new life in California, Edward wakes up in the hospital, an orphan. Known as Eddie before the crash, this young boy has to come to terms with his loss and trauma. As part of coping strategy, he chooses to abandon the name Eddie, becoming Edward instead.
From the beginning of his new life, with his Aunt Lacey and Uncle John, Edward is fighting to create his own normal. His new room is the unoccupied Nursery in John and Lacey’s house, the room created for the babies that never came. Unable to sleep here, unable to find peace anywhere, Edward connects with Shay, the girl next door. Individual, quirky, with demons of her own, Shay offers no judgement, has no emotional baggage and lets Edward come to terms with things in his own way. It is in Shay’s room that he sleeps, comforted by her steady presence in the same way he was anchored in a previous life by his brother.
The story of Edward’s gradual return to being is one time frame in the book. It is juxtaposed, chapter by chapter by another; that of the final hours of Flight 2977. Here we come to know something of the other passengers, see inside their lives and know them as more than just nameless victims .
We meet Florida, a vivacious woman, alternative in her outlook, possessor, she believes, of many previous lives, with bells on her skirts and an abandoned husband behind her.
There is her ‘row- mate’, Linda. Desperate for the love and acceptance she never found from her parents, she is flying out to LA to meet her new boyfriend, harbouring a secret and hoping he will propose.
And Benjamin; US solider, flying back home to his Grandma, mentally and physically broken; questioning who he is and where he is going.
These are just a few of the lives that are lost, just a few of the hopes and dreams that die that day. Because what Edward learns as he moves forward is that it isn’t just enough to survive this plane crash. You have to take the life that’s left to you and live it.
The trouble is he isn’t sure how to do this. Equally his Aunt and Uncle, desperate not to cause him further pain, don’t know how to help him. When Edward becomes the focus for the grief of the families left behind John and Lacey do everything they can to protect Edward, to stop him being swept aside by the tide of pain and intensity behind it.
It is in an effort to keep him safe that they choose to hide the letters from him. Letters written to him from the families, pouring out their grief, looking for answers and comfort, seeking affirmation and commitment.
So when Edward and Shay discover these letters late one night, what will they do to Edward? Will they push him further in to pain ? Or will the love of the other families and the very real mark each of the victims has made on this planet start to heal him?
This is a book, that despite it’s central event, celebrates life. In a strange twist this story embraces tragedy and uses it as the catalyst to throw life, in all it’s many and varied forms, into stark relief.
Dear Edward is a celebration not a wake. Make sure you take the time to join in.