Dear Edward

Some authors write at an absolutely dizzying pace.  When we receive new books from these popular authors I wonder when does this person get any sleep or go to the grocery store because I’m sure we just got a new one from them a few months ago.  Are they writing 24 hours a day?  Other authors publish a new book in their series each year, almost like clockwork, with their fans waiting for it (possibly planning a nice weekend’s worth of reading around the publication date) while others take more than a decade to write something new.  Alistair MacLeod spent something like 13 years writing his novel No Great Mischief and I’m certain it was worth every day he spent because many of the scenes in that story are still vividly imprinted in my memory, long after I first read it.

Maybe you don’t have to be actively writing a novel for years and years to make it fabulous, maybe it’s enough to just marinate in the story, get to know the characters and think through the plot.  The inspiration for Ann Napolitano’s latest, Dear Edward, came from a newspaper article about a 9-year old Dutch boy who was the sole survivor of a plane crash.  He had been returning from a vacation with his parents and older brother when they, the crew, and the remaining passengers died in the accident.

Although the accident happened in May of 2010, Napolitano is quoted as saying that she just couldn’t let the boy’s story go – it became like an ‘obsession’.  She managed to write two other successful novels in the last ten years so it’s not like she was just sitting on her couch thinking about it but the time spent is evident.  This novel goes far beyond the ‘hopeful and uplifting’ book-of-the month kind of story that you might expect it to be.

Dear Edward is a chilling story to read, of course, but not so chilling in that you can’t read it in the dark because you are sure a monster will come out of the bushes around your house.  The horror in this book is so much more familiar because it is the fear of losing everyone you love and everything you know.  Even more frightening is that the novel happens on a sunny day when you least expect it – not on a battlefield, during the apocalypse or facing down a known threat.  Their fate changes in an instant.

Edward and his family were boarding a routine flight together when everything changed for him, as the plane broke apart during a storm, and he woke up in a hospital to the sounds of his Aunt and an unfamiliar man discussing his injuries.  We are side-by-side with Edward as he recovers and mourns his family, with the passengers during their last moments on the flight and in the cockpit with the pilot as their final decisions are made.  If you are a person who finds reading details about air travel failure difficult then there are chapters of this book that you should skip – but don’t avoid the whole book because it really is wonderful.

The pacing of this book is sublime.  Napolitano writes of Edward’s life moving forward as he first recovers in the hospital, moves in with his maternal aunt and her husband, and tries to start living again but she does this with such care, highlighting the panic that he is feeling.  She also provides snapshots of the last hours spent by his fellow passengers on the flight so that we get a real sense of the people who were lost that day – not just Edward’s family – and these move by at a much quicker pace.  Combining the two makes the novel one that is so hard to stop reading but you might find yourself stopping to think – what would I have done? would I react that way? is this something that could have been done better?  It’s a novel that demands reflection.

Reviews of this book call it a marvelous example of what it means to ‘truly live’, to learn to appreciate each moment, find life precious.  I don’t think reviewers are wrong when they write this but the book is more than a feel-good story of a family coming together after tragedy.   Ann Napolitano’s gift is in her descriptions of the day-to-day moments of soul-crushing grief and how Edward can feel so powerless in an almost unfathomable situation.  To share too much of how Edward, his aunt and uncle, and the community come together when he is released from the hospital would spoil the pleasure of reading this book, as would saying how Edward’s life is eventually shaped by this tragedy.

When you read the book there are moments when you might feel like a tissue would come in handy but it isn’t all heartbreaking sadness because she has written a supporting story that is so much more than what you would expect.  Although it wasn’t a classic mystery I wasn’t ever sure what Edward, his aunt and uncle, and their friends were ever going to do when faced with a challenge because they seemed overwhelming every time – I was always surprised by the book and that is so enjoyable.  It is a fascinating, satisfying story with a beautiful ending that will definitely rise to the top of your list of favourite reads.  It might not make you learn to appreciate each moment, as the reviewers are saying, but you will treasure the moments you spend reading Dear Edward.

— Penny M.