A review by Annabelle Lee
Do you have any plans for February 27th? You do now. That’s the release date for Dear Edward, the most recent novel from US author Ann Napolitano. This book deserves to be devoured.
Dear Edward begins in the airport lounge with a collection of strangers, each boarding the flight for their own reasons. A family moving across the country; one woman leaving her husband; another hoping for a proposal at the other end; one business powerhouse in decline and a shark on the cusp of success. All about to meet their end. All except one.
Edward is a twelve year old boy, the sole survivor of a plane crash which killed 191 others, including his family. His story begins in the wake of the accident and carries through subsequent years as he discovers how to live again.
Simple concept but it’s all about the execution
Napolitano has created a story of intricacy and depth out of what is essentially a simple concept. Plane crash, one survivor. Without the chance to know all these characters (a handful, not all 191), the crash and the deaths would feel abstract and the story morose. Because you are hearing in their own heads their hopes, dreams and histories (and so beautifully written, engaging from the first page), you fall in love with them. And you get so much more perspective on what was really lost. Knowing, all the time, that they are about to die gives their stories a real gravity.
One little boy carrying the weight of others’ expectations
This is important because at the heart of the story is Edward, who has lost his entire family, and becomes a celebrity in one moment. The result of these circumstances is that he isn’t just dealing with his own grief. He’s carrying the expectations and pressures of people all over the world, particularly the friends and families of the other passengers. He has barely met most of them and remembers just a few. However, the threads between those people on the plane who we get to know and Edward’s memories and connections afterward tie together seamlessly and make the losses feel personal.
How could any 12 year old deal with something so momentous? Edward grapples with not only with what happened to him, but perhaps the biggest question of all, ‘why me?’. Edward in himself is nothing special. He’s not portrayed as some wonder kid or inspiration porn. Part of what makes him so inviting in this story is that he is so normal. He’s broken, and vulnerable, and selfish and polite. He is just trying to survive. Talk about relatable!
Dear Edward explores trauma and grief with beautiful sensitivity and balance. There is no magic fix (which would be a slap in the face to anyone who has experienced trauma), but it also isn’t lost in darkness. Each character offers something in the form of humanity, courage, compassion or hope. And the result is a story celebrating life.
Dear Edward is a tragedy, but one so full of humanity and life and beauty you will wish it didn’t end. Sad, yes, but so much more. Reading this book made me laugh and cry and turn the final page with a smile on my face. It made me reach out to my loved ones and tell them how much they mean to me. It’s one of those magical stories that will live in your heart long after it has ended. Do yourself a favour and savour it.
Five out of five stars.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Imprint: Viking (Penguin)
Format: paperback, 340 pages
Reviewer Annabelle Lee
Annabelle Lee is a chronic book nerd who loves nothing more than a good story and some people to talk to about the story. Congratulations, you are now those people. Occasionally she puts down a book long enough to take care of her kids and even to write and illustrate some books of her own. You can find her horribly punny series of picture books for grown ups on Facebook and Instagram, or all good online bookstores.
DMZ discovered Annabelle Lee at Impact Comics’s festival where Annabelle showed us her hilarious adult picture books.