In Dear Edward, author Ann Napolitano deftly navigates the psychological and physical trauma of 12-year-old Edward Adler in the aftermath of a plane crash, of which he is the only survivor. He grapples with the loss of his family, his near-celebritylike status and the adjustment to living with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey. In his new home, Edward’s lifeline becomes his next-door neighbor’s 12-year-old daughter, Shay, and the novel follows their deepening friendship through the subsequent six years.
Chapters alternate between Edward’s post-crash life and the flight itself, from its takeoff on the East Coast to its end, three-quarters of the way to Los Angeles. The novel homes in on the lives of several of the passengers, including Edward’s family—his professor dad, screenwriter mom and 15-year-old brother. There’s an elderly but curmudgeonly billionaire, a beautiful flight attendant who engages in a tryst with a passenger, a New Age Filipina who remembers past lives and an injured soldier who’s beginning to understand his sexuality.
Dear Edward isn’t a page turner with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. Instead it’s a slow burn that draws you in to Edward’s interior life, the melancholia of his loss and of the fractured lives around him. Years after the crash, Edward’s healing begins to accelerate when he finds bags of unopened letters from the crash victims’ families. He is able to empathize and grieve with them, and so come to terms with his own loss.
It’s hard for a novel to thoroughly capture a reader’s attention while simultaneously meditating on profoundly complex issues. In Dear Edward, Napolitano, a creative writing professor in New York and author of two previous novels, including A Good Hard Look, manages to achieve this. The delicate sparseness of her prose slowly peels back the layers to reveal a warm, fulfilling center that is a true reward for readers.