Dear Edward

Dear Edward


A few months ago, my college age daughter, (an English major) suggested that I read Dear Edward. Then, while we were traveling together for spring break, she noticed me reading the book as recommended and expressed surprised concern that I would pick a book about a plane crash while navigating various legs of air travel. I’ll admit, I somewhat surprised myself as I became engrossed in Ann Napolitano’s captivating novel about the crash of a flight from Newark to Los Angeles. Remarkably, I experienced this novel and an impeccable travel companion.

Dear Edward toggles between two stories. One follows a 183 passenger morning flight from Newark to LA packed with a dynamic cast of characters — an ailing billionaire, a tounge pierced misfit who discovers she is pregnant while testing in the plane’s compact bathroom, a hippy in a jingle skirt who is leaving her husband to embrace a new roller blading lifestyle, a gay soldier struggling with his identify, a conceited econ bro and an impossibly glamourous flight attendant. And then there’s the Adler family – Bruce (a math professor who recently did not make tenure) Jane, a frustrated but successful writer, Jordan a vegan teen missing his first love and twelve-year-old Edward. The flight is intimate, humorous and relatable to anyone who has ever crammed themselves through a tight squeeze on a plane in order to attempt to not awakening a sleeping seatmate in order to reach the aisle and head to the toilet. Readers experience a robust tribute to the simultaneous excitement and compromised dignity of air travel, and there is no indication that the plane will implode other than the alternating chapters about Edward’s life in the crash’s aftermath.

The second tale begins in the hospital after the crash and navigates young Edward’s traumatic grief. Edward’s shellshocked aunt and uncle struggle to raise and care for him. Uncle John and Aunt Lacey experience years of infertility and limited exposure to child rearing before inheriting responsibility for their nephew who has become an internet and world-wide obsession. His devastating pain and grief are met by an engaging community of characters who rally around him to varying degrees. Neighbors, a principle, a coach, and a reasonable great therapist offer lessons in healing wounds that will never entirely disappear.

Sibling bonds are central to both plot threads. Edward wears his dead older brother’s clothing for years, despite the inappropriate sizing. And in a particularly heartbreaking moment – one of many scattered throughout the novel — Edward longs for his mother as his Aunt Lacey attempts to nurture him:

Edward nods and is surprised that as she leaves the kitchen, she bends down and kisses his cheek. It’s a gentle kiss, and she ruffles his hair on the way up. He’s surprised party because Lacey rarely kisses him but also because the moment separates, the way the individual clous did in the sky and the threads of grass did on the ground. He sees – and feels – two separate realities. Lacey kisses his cheek the exact same way his mother had kissed Edward’s cheek when she was alive. The kiss feels deliberate and intentional; Lacey can’t write her sister’s movie, but this is something she can do. But she also kisses his cheek the way Lacey would have kissed the cheek of the baby she had so badly wanted. Edward knows this, even though he can’t explain how. The word cherish enters his brain as if on a foreign breeze and then departs…

In her acknowledgments, Napolitano explains that her book was inspired by the 2010 crash of Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771 in which all passengers died except for one surviving nine-year-old boy. She also drew from the details of Air France Flight 447 and a 2011 article in Popular Mechanics detailing the crash. She shares that her additional inspiration was her personal observations about the love that transpires between her own two sons. The author’s palpable awe of sibling love and passion for travel despite it’s remote but real risks come alive in all corners of this beautiful novel. Take it in the air if you dare, it’s a magical read.

Elisabeth LaMotte

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