‘This had made Edward think of the ways of leaving: through doors, windows, in cars, on bikes, trains, boats, planes. Leaving was different than what his family had done. Leaving was a choice.’
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano tells the story of a deadly plane crash which kills all 187 passengers save from a 12-year-old boy. Inspired by the true story of the 9-year-old Dutch boy who was the sole survivor of the Afriqiyah Airlines 771 crash in 2010, the story jumps back and forth in time between the hours preceding the crash and the aftermath. In the wake of the crash, Edward struggles to come to terms with the tragic deaths of his parents and older brother, the reason for his survival, and his newfound fame.
The chapters are split between those on the plane which are narrated by various passengers on-board, and the chapters set after the crash which are told solely from Edward’s perspective. I did find that the chapters on the plane jumped between narrators a bit too much sometimes (the narrator would shift within a matter of paragraphs rather than having a chapter dedicated solely to their story), but Napolitano’s structure was also clever in that it helped build up an emotional connection with all of the victims.
What struck me most about the chapters on the plane was the overwhelming sense of foreboding that Napolitano created, with various characters either reminiscing on regrets from their past or dreaming about their future achievements. I wasn’t overwhelmingly emotional when reading, but I don’t think that was Napolitano’s intent, moreover, she encourages us to think about the fleetingness of life and making the most of everyday.
The lead up to the crash builds gradually throughout the book and the short chapters in the latter half of the novel which comprise of one or two pages made for a really tense read. I had a really awful feeling in my stomach the entire time I was reading these passages and felt so helpless knowing the inevitable but being unable to prevent it.
Edward has some really intense flashbacks to the crash which are sometimes triggered by the smallest noise or movement. Napolitano narrated the long-term effects of grief and trauma with beautiful sensitivity and tenderness, for example, the repetitive clicking sound Edward constantly hears which reminds him of the noise of a metronome and consequently pulls him back into the memory of playing the piano with his brother. Napolitano scattered subtle references to Edward’s grief throughout the novel, eloquently demonstrating how loss manifests itself in all aspects of our existence.
A life-affirming read, which also left me feeling hopeful and profoundly grateful for my loved ones. Dear Edward is a stunning story about loss, friendship, and survival with a heart-warming message at its core: healing is hard, but we are never alone in this battle.
Star Rating: 4/5