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Ann Napolitano | Dear Edward


BLURB: 

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.

Edward's story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery--one that will lead him to the answers of some of life's most profound questions: When you've lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

REVIEW:

Dear Edward is powerful, poignant, and beautiful.

One summer morning nearly 200 people board a plane in Newark bound for Los Angeles. Some are headed to Los Angeles to start a new chapter in their lives, like 12-year-old Edward Adler, who is moving with his parents and older brother so his mother can take a screenwriting job. Others are traveling for business, pleasure, or obligation.

Somewhere over Colorado, the plane crashes, killing 186 of the 187 passengers onboard. Only Edward survives.

Edward is devastated by the loss of his family, especially his beloved 15-year-old brother, Jordan. He can’t fathom how, once he heals physically, he’ll be able to have a life when his family won’t, and he feels awkward living amidst the relationship challenges his aunt and uncle (who took him in) are dealing with. He likes to think that his family is still living somewhere up in the air while he is down on the ground.

Edward is viewed as a miracle by the families of those lost in the crash as well as the rest of the world. It’s an immense pressure to bear, especially for a young boy. He is unsure how to plan for a future when he understands how uncertain life is, and he knows what it’s like to be left behind.

"It feels unkind that they are shoving their emotions at him when his own sadness and fear are so vast that he has to hide from them. The tears of these strangers sting against his raw skin. His ears click and people hold handkerchiefs to their mouths and then the nurse reaches the end of the corridor and the mechanical door slides open and they are outside. He looks down at his busted legs, to avoid seeing the lethal sky."

One night he finds some things related to the accident that at first are overwhelming, but ultimately provide a source of comfort for him. He can be more than just the kid who survived, he can find a way to make a difference. But he also can’t do it alone, which means he has to let others in again.

This book was so moving, so thought-provoking. Ann Napolitano does such a great job because in less-skilled hands, this could be utterly maudlin and depressing.

The story alternates between the present and the time from boarding until the plane crashes, so you get to know some of those who were on the plane a little better, and you understand what caused the plane to crash. That's a little difficult to read.

This really was a great read, although I’m glad I don’t have to get on a plane anytime soon!

**********************

Actual rating: 4.5 stars, rounded up.

I loved this book. The story ended up being so much more hopeful than I expected. Edward’s journey from normalcy to survival to learning to live again is incredibly encouraging to anyone who has ever undergone trauma. Because no matter what we’ve faced in our lives, next to none of us have ever undergone a tragedy quite like the one Edward endures.
“There is a note of relief. They have somewhere to start, even if it is the worst place imaginable.”

We know from the synopsis that something terrible is going to happen to flight 2977, and that Edward is going to be the lone survivor. There was some part of me that expected this to be a different type of survival story, one where Edward finds himself alone amid the rubble and has to make his way back to civilization with nothing but his wits and luck to guide him through some kind of wilderness. That is not this story. Edward is found amid the wreckage. He recuperates in a hospital and has family that takes him in. But this is still the tale of how he survived emotionally what killed his parents and brother and nearly two hundred others.
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?”

Napolitano does a brilliant job of portraying grief in all its stages. And she does it through the growth of a child, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to what her protagonist is facing. We see Edward not only survive the crash, we also observe his physical healing and growth as he ages. As much as he might wish otherwise, the development of his body means that he’s growing up and away from those he lost. I can’t imagine my own growth from child to teen and beyond being a source of pain for me because it was a constant reminder that I lived where my family did not. But children are resilient, and Edward proves that again and again, even if that resiliency is against his own will.
“Everything ends,” she says. “That’s nothing to be sad about. What matters is what starts in that moment.”

I find it so interesting that the loss that breaks Edward is not that of his parents, but that of his brother. There can never be enough books about positive sibling relationships, in my opinion. My brother is one of my very best friends, and I can’t imagine losing him. I’m fortunate enough to also have a wonderful relationship with my parents, who I still see everyday, but there’s something so special about having a sibling who you not only love, but actually enjoy being around. That’s the kind of relationship that Edward and his brother, Jordan, had. Edward feels like he has to live his life not only for himself, but for his older brother who never had a chance to grow up. But does he own that same to every other passenger who perished on the flight that left him a brother-less orphan? Is there some reason that he was the lone survivor, or was it just luck?
“Take stock of who we are, and what we have, and then use it for good.”

This is a story about the difference between surviving and actually living. How many of us are satisfied with floating from day to day merely existing and carrying on a well-worn cycle we’ve built for ourselves? If you had survived something as traumatic as a plane crash, would you feel that you needed to live your life more intentionally instead of simply coasting? I hope that, when my time on earth comes to an end, I and those I leave behind will feel that I made the most of every single day.
“This was not a tragedy. Dying on your couch watching TV by yourself is a tragedy. Dying while doing something you love with every part of your body is magic. I wish you magic, Edward.”

Dear Edward was not an easy book. But it was ultimately a hopeful one. It’s a unique if painful take on the classic coming-of-age trope. Though the subject matter was heartbreaking, it was handled in such a way that the story was compulsively readable and interlaced with humor, both in Edward’s present and in the multi-character narration of the events of the flight itself. This is an incredibly well balanced book that I feel could be the right book for just about any adult reader.


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