Reconnecting with life after loss can be a struggle and Ann Napolitano’s Dear Edward, uplifting and hopeful, is a story of a young boy’s journey to overcome challenges, pick up the pieces and begins to dream again following a deadly plane crash.
An unthinkable tragedy leaves a young boy devoid of normalcy and purpose, yet over time, love, friendship and community breathe life back into him as he finds his way. Edward, along with his older brother, Jordan, and their parents are on a flight from NJ to LA when the accident happens and there are no survivors…except for twelve year old Edward.
Dear Edward, is an emotional and beautiful story of a young boy’s coming of age as he learns new ways to love while coming to grips with the loss of his family. We meet many of the airplane passengers like the injured army vet, the woman with memories of past lives, the stewardess, the Wall Street guy, and the pregnant girl who dreams of getting married. We learn about Edward’s family; Bruce, Edward and Jordan’s father, homeschooled the boys and they have a very close relationship, while Jane, a working mom, is sitting in the front of the plane on her own getting some work done. After the accident, Edward is alone, and he must leave his home to live with his mother’s sister, Lacey and her husband, John. They were hoping to have a baby and were now given the unexpected responsibility to raise their nephew while suffering their own voids. When trying to deal with the trauma and loss, Edward is told:
“What happened is baked into your bones. it lives under your skin. It’s not going away. It’s part of you and will be part of you every moment until you die. What you’ve been working on …is learning to live with that. “
Author Ann Napolitano wrote a wonderful story; not focused on a plane crash, but on the rebuilding of human connection and heart with sensitive characters full of life and feelings. The story was so satisfying, as information was revealed in bits and pieces, going back and forth from past to present time, leading up to the tragedy and then the aftermath. I felt Edward’s pain and numbness he experienced in his life after the accident, and I rejoiced in his growth, little by little, as he engaged in his surroundings and made observations with his teenaged point of view. Relationships are formed anew as we continually get glimpses of people from the past and Edward’s current support system as he forges on.
A wonderful coming of age story in the wake of a terrible tragedy, Napolitano has delivered a life-affirming novel with a perfect ending. I highly recommend reading Dear Edward.
Q & A with Ann Napolitano
Q: I couldn’t put Dear Edward down and was compelled to read cover to cover. The emotional story is mostly about the coming of age of a young boy after tragedy, but the actual tragedy is something I have mulled over quite a bit. What inspired you to write about such a deadly accident? And how did you manage to make this story uplifting and hopeful?
A: Thank you for the kind words. As far as the inspiration, I became obsessed with a story in the news about a plane crash in 2010. The flight originated in South Africa and crashed in Libya – most of the passengers were Dutch, and on their way home from vacation. Only one passenger survived, a nine-year-old boy named Ruben Van Assouw. The boy was found still strapped into his seat about a half mile from the wreckage – the speculation was that he’d been sitting near the fuselage and had been basically ejected from the plane. He had a badly broken leg and a punctured lung but was otherwise fine. Everyone else, including his parents and brother, had died immediately. I couldn’t read enough about this story, and the obsession was such that I knew I was going to have to write about it. I was going to have to write my way into understanding how this young boy could walk away from this wreckage, from the loss of his family, and not only survive, but find a way to live his life. Also, I was always aware that as a reader I might find a book about a plane crash too upsetting to take on, so I wanted to write not about the crash, but the living and surviving that sprang from it.
Q: Being a sole survivor is intriguing and complex, especially for a young boy. Your choices for the story are unique and powerful…Edward must have had other school and family friends and teachers in his life prior to the accident, yet you pull him out of all that was before and place him alone with only one familial connection that feels distant. Tell us why…
A: Edward and his brother were homeschooled by his father, so he didn’t have other peers or teachers, per se. And he has no living grandparents. His family was a very tight unit, in part by their father’s design. Jordan had a secret girlfriend at the deli, but Edward was still too young to have broken away into his own personal life and relationships.
Q: Both Edward’s mother and his aunt Lacy were not the typical, doting motherly types – Edward seemed to connect more with his father and uncle. Why did you make these choices?
A: That’s interesting, because I wouldn’t have thought about it that way. I guess the depiction of the men and women in the book simply reflects my opinion that people more often operate outside of their gender-stereotype, than within it. All of the grown-ups Edward encounters after the crash offer him what they can, and Lacey is particularly hindered because she lost her sister in the plane crash.
Q: Were any of your characters influenced by real people?
A: As I said above, Edward’s situation was based on a Dutch boy named Ruben Van Assouw. But because I learned very little about who Ruben was as a boy, or how he recovered, I had to make Edward himself up. The love between Edward and Jordan was inspired by the love between my sons. My boys have been devoted to each other since my youngest son was born, and their devotion found its way into the book. When I thought about Edward’s losses in the light of my sons’ relationship, it became clear to me that the loss of his brother would be the most devastating.
Q: I love your writing, it is visual and your characters say and do just what I craved every step of the way – a most satisfying experience when reading a novel. The limited lens in which you create for the reader encompasses the perfect amount of character development and cast – and the contents of the big locked bags are revealed when we are ready to digest more. Why was it important for the family members of the deceased to reach out to Eddie?
A: Thank you – and the real answer is I’m not sure. The letters were something that showed up in a very early draft, ad it felt right to me that these families who had so abruptly lost their loved ones, didn’t have closure and would reach out to the one person who survived the crash. One theme I think I try to explore in the novel is interconnectedness – as the storyteller I was always looking for ways to connect the storyline in the sky with the storyline on the ground. i felt like the two sections of the story would lean toward each other.
Q: Edward’s emotions after the accident seem very realistic and true to life. Have you seen Anderson Cooper’s interview with Stephen Colbert about loss?
A: I did see that interview – it was wonderful! I actually tweeted about it saying that the conversation those two men had about loss and grief felt like the heartbeat of Dear Edward.
Q: How long did it take you to write Dear Edward and was there anything drastic that changed in the editing process?
A: It took eight years to write Dear Edward – I am very slow :). The plane sections never changed much from the initial version, but Edwards’ present storyline changed mightily, many times over the years. For instance, I had one version in which we see him live his entire life, and at the end of the book he’s in his seventies.
Q: What kind of research did you do for this novel and what did you learn that was most surprising?
A: I did a lot of research, which was very fun. I spoke to a retired commercial pilot about planes and possible reasons for a crash, and then read many transcripts from National Transportation Safety Board hearings. I also read different non-fiction books as research for the characters on the plane. For instance, I read War by Sebastian Junger in preparation for writing about Benjamin Stillman, and Jack Welch’s autobiography to make sense of Crispin Cox.
Q: What do you like to read and can you recommend a few current books we should add to our reading list?
A: I love to read, mostly literary fiction and then non-fiction that delves into whatever subject I’m currently interested in. As far as current books, I recently read and loved The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is not a new publication, but I just finished The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and I loved it with every cell in my body. I’m looking forward to a few upcoming books: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel.
About the Author:
Ann Napolitano’s new novel, Dear Edward, will be published by Dial Press in January 2020. She is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach. She is also the Associate Editor of One Story literary magazine. She received an MFA from New York University; she has taught fiction writing for Brooklyn College’s MFA program, New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers’ Workshop.
Ann lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.