Sole Survivor Finds His Way Back to Living in Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano; Author Q & A included.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano book cover

My Review:

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 this.  Pre-order on Amazon today – book goes on sale 1/14/20.

 

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.

Anderson Cooper talks with Stephen Colbert about grief and loss.

 

Goodreads Summary

Author Ann Napolitano

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.

Nathalie Jacob stays positive after trauma in her memoir…8 – Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor

Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor

My  Review:

In 8: Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor, Nathalie Jacob tells us her incredible story of bravery and rediscovering life and purpose after doctors discovered a golf ball size tumor in her brain. Enjoying a successful career and an exciting and energetic lifestyle with her new husband and friends, she was shocked when told she required surgery. Assuming she could be back to work and usual life in 3 weeks time, Nathalie and her family were blindsided when the results were not what was expected, and all of a sudden her hopes and dreams were not attainable. A devastating situation with a glimmer of hope, Nathalie had to adjust to the new normal and redefine who she is and what she can accomplish.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nathalie, and without a doubt, she is an incredible, eloquent woman with strength and a kind heart.  She is worldly, well traveled, educated, accomplished, trilingual, with fantastic memories and stories from her days training for the Olympics in sailing and living in Madrid, Columbia, the Caribbean and Miami.  Left with some considerable deficits that prevent her from getting a full time job and returning to her active lifestyle, she is now creating new memories in Connecticut with her husband and beautiful young daughter.  Nathalie started several groups on Facebook, some the are social and one that is for Spanish speaking brain tumor survivors and their families.  She likes connecting people, has found playdates and enjoyed mom’s outings with many of the people who have joined her groups, and her next challenge is to develop a not for profit to benefit children in Colombia.   Her planned path in life may have changed but she is destined for great success.

Here is a video interview of Nathalie talking about her book.  Please take the time to read her story!

Check out this article about celebrities who have had brain tumors.

Goodreads Summary

Author Nathalie Jacob and her daughter

About the Author:

Nathalie Jacob was raised in Colombia, went to high school in France, and later moved to the United States. She is trilingual in English, Spanish, and French.

Nathalie studied business administration at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and received her master’s in business administration from IE Business School in Spain. She spent ten years working in high-level marketing jobs for Fortune 500 companies in five different countries. In her spare time, she enjoyed sailing and won several national championships.

The aftereffects of a brain surgery left Nathalie disabled and unable to work. She has done three voluntary jobs since, until the birth of her first child. She is now focusing on being the best mother she can be to her baby daughter, Nicole.

His Favorites by Kate Walbert

His Favorites by Kate Walbert

My Review:

With sparse, lyrical language, author of His Favorites, Kate Walbert, shines a light on women’s rights as she tells us about Jo’s tragic and unsettling experiences.  After being in a deadly accident at 15 years old with her best friends, Jo, a wild and now emotionally broken high school student is sent off to boarding school.  Her life at home crumbled, her friendships broken, and the new beginning her life away at school had the potential of being is not going in the right direction.  Memories and stories weave together our understanding of who Jo is…and how an irresponsible female teenager, faced with tragedy and then coerced by a sweet talking man, may not get the support she needed to fight back and stand up for herself.

With Jo’s best friend dead and her parents separated, she blames herself and feels the heavy weight of responsibility.  To start fresh she begins attending a boarding school, but not with a clean slate.  She is consumed with guilt and is having trouble fitting in. She has a labored relationship with her quirky roommate, and unacceptable interactions of the “me too” variety with a charismatic albeit inappropriate male teacher.  Her vulnerability attracts trouble, her cry for help is ignored and her most effective escape from reality consists of drugs, alcohol and trying to keep her mind dark and empty.

Reading this brief 150 page book generated overwhelming feelings of hurt and sorrow, along with anger and outrage.  I found Jo to be lost and desperate, abandoned by her family and friends from home, and abused and damaged by people who were supposed to help.  When she reached out for support she was belittled and rejected.  Like many who suffer abuse and never get the chance to speak out and be heard, Jo carries the burden and the heavy heart.  This is an important book for all to read – life is not always easy but we must all lift each other up, protect one another and stand up for our rights and others.  I highly recommend this one.

Goodreads Summary

Kate Walbert

About the Author:

Kate Walbert was born in New York City and raised in Georgia, Texas, Japan and Pennsylvania, among other places.

She is the author of A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002 Connecticut Book Award in Fiction in 2002; and Where She Went, a collection of linked stories and New York Times notable book.

She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellowship, a Connecticut Commission on the Arts fiction fellowship, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library.

Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize stories.

From 1990 to 2005, she lectured in fiction writing at Yale University. She currently lives in New York City with her family.

 

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

 

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Conversation with author Rhiannon Navin:

First I would like to say I loved Only Child. Your writing pulled me in so I couldn’t put down the book until I finished; I think about the characters and how they dealt with tragedy and loss everyday, and I see the value of empathy now more than ever.  I felt hesitant when I was ready to pick up my copy – we as a country are experiencing the aftermath of a school shooting once again and emotions are difficult to keep in check when thinking about the minute by minute experience of the kids during the occurrence, so I was not sure I was ready to put myself in the position to live through such a frightening, life changing event along with your young elementary school narrator, Zach.  After I finished the last page I decided everyone in the country is ready to read this; in a way it is a guide for how to (and how not to) manage your emotions and understand each other’s feelings and take care of yourself and loved ones during difficult times.

What made you decide to write about a school shooting?  Do you have any personal ties to a similar tragedy?

About two years ago, shortly after my twins Frankie and Garrett started kindergarten, they experienced their first mandatory lockdown drill at school. That same afternoon, I found Garrett hiding from the “bad guy” underneath our dining room table. He was petrified. So I began to wonder: What would it be like for him to experience an actual shooting? And how would he navigate what came afterwards? And so I sat down and wrote the opening scene of Only Child. In this scene, Zach, my six-year old protagonist, is hiding in the closet of his first-grade classroom, together with his teacher and classmates. They are hiding from a gunman who’s at large at the school and who, during the course of his rampage, takes nineteen lives.

How did you get into the head of a first grader?  

I used my own kids as my focus group for how Zach might act or speak. In a way, the process of discovering Zach’s character and writing his story brought me closer to them because I paid more attention and watched them intently for clues: What are they thinking right now? How are they processing, expressing themselves? I call my kids by the wrong name all the time—even the cats’ and dog’s names sometimes—and because I hung out with Zach so much while they were at school, I even called them Zach once or twice. They were very confused.

Your characters all dealt with grief in different ways; Zach worked out his feelings with colors on paper, read Magic Treehouse books that in essence were “self help” for kids, and tried to be close with his parents.  His mom shut him and the rest of the family out as she turned inward to process her loss alone, and then invested her energy in anger, retaliation and connection with other victim’s families, and Zach’s father did his best to be supportive and present for his son by sitting with him in his hideout and trying to be understanding, but was distracted with his emotions regarding his adult relationships.

Do you think there is a right way to deal with grief?

No, there is no right or wrong way. Grief will manifest itself differently for each person and there’s very little you can do to control how it will affect you. In an ideal world, you would seek out help, hold your loved ones close, and try to pass through that trying time together. But as we all know, that’s not how it always plays out in real life. Writing the character of Melissa, Zach’s mom, was very difficult, not only because I often felt her pain like it was my own, but because I also often didn’t agree with her actions. I often felt disappointed in her or even angry sometimes. But—that’s grief. It can be all-consuming and overpowering.

Do you believe Charlie was to blame for his son’s actions?  

I think it’s impossible to place blame on any one person or circumstance when a young man like Charles Jr. in my story, or the many real-life examples we have seen lately, commit such a horrific act like a school shooting. What surprised me was how much empathy I felt for Charlie and his wife while writing my story. That is not something I expected at first. And now, whenever news of the latest school shooting breaks, my first thoughts are always with the victims and their families of course. But I do also think about the shooter’s family. While the victims’ families have to deal with their unspeakable losses, the perpetrator’s family is dealing with guilt and shame over their child’s actions in addition to having lost a child. A community comes together and rallies around the victims’ families, while the shooter’s family is ostracized and completely alone with their grief. As a mother, the only thing I can imagine that would be worse than having my child killed in a school shooting would be my child committing one. 

Did you intend for this book to be a catalyst for change when it comes to legislation?  How do you think it can impact discussions regarding mental illness and gun access and responsibility?  

I began writing Only Child without an agenda. I simply needed an outlet for all the fears and worries I am experiencing as a mother of three young children. I lie awake at night worrying about their safety while at school. Writing my story was a way for me to work through my fears and my grief. It was never my intention to get up on my soapbox and shout out my views on gun control. Instead, I wanted my story and my little protagonist’s experience speak for itself. I hope my readers will find themselves in a hopeful place when they reach the end of my book and maybe even feel inspired to take action to be part of the solution, to make sure their child or their neighbor’s child or the child across town doesn’t have to become the next Zach.

Why did you make Andy such a difficult child?  

It was important to me not to write a story that would be pitting “good” against “evil.” My goal was to paint a picture of an ordinary family that I can relate to and that many readers will be able to relate to. My characters are all flawed in their own way, because that makes them relatable to me. Zach’s family is an average family dealing with everyday problems. Being married is hard, even under the best of circumstances. Parenting is hard, especially when your child has behavioral challenges, like Andy. The fact that Andy was a difficult child and an unkind brother made the grieving process that much more confusing for Zach and interesting for me.

At the end of the story the family came together, possibly realizing they needed to in order to get to the next stage of grief and begin to go through the motions of living life again.  Do you think in the case of Zach’s family, loss will keep them together or break them apart in the end?

I think I left Zach, his family, and his community in a place of hope. Their story is far from over, of course, and they are only beginning to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. But they have started down a path towards healing and forgiveness, and instead of trying to walk it alone, they have come together and will lean on each other.

Only Child was so well done, a deep look into how tragic experiences can influence and shape a young person’s thoughts and actions.  Will you write from a child’s perspective again?  What are you working on now?

I think I will continue to try writing from unique perspectives. I very much enjoyed putting myself into such completely different shoes. I don’t know if it will be a child’s point of view again. I have begun working on another story. I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it too much, but like Only Child, it’s a story that deals with a family in peril, although an entirely different kind of peril.

And finally, what books have you read lately?

I’ve read a whole range of very different books lately. I just finished “Restless Souls” by Dan Sheehan (out here in the US on April 10) and absolutely loved it. Before that I read “One Goal” by Amy Bass and “The Devil’s Claw” by Lara Dearman, both crazy talented friends of time. Next up is “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig, very excited for that one.

Thank you so much to Rhiannon Navin!  I look forward to reading her next book!

As seen on Goodreads:

A Tenderhearted debut about healing and family, narrated by an unforgettable six-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts and the quietest voices speak the loudest.

Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.

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About the Author:

RHIANNON NAVIN grew up in Bremen, Germany, in a family of book-crazy women. Her career in advertising brought her to New York City, where she worked for several large agencies before becoming a full-time mother and writer. She now lives outside of New York City with her husband, three children, and two cats.

The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan

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Billy Brennan is overweight, 401 lbs to be exact. He and his wife Tricia just lost their oldest teenage son Michael to suicide, and with no recollection of the boy being unhappy and no note of explanation, they are blindsided and distraught. This horrific tragedy has left the family in shambles. As the couple and their 3 remaining children struggle in their grief to reclaim an element of normalcy, Billy steps out of his typical complacency and decides he will make a big change in his own life and attempt to get healthy in honor of his beloved son. With a unwavering commitment to lose 200 pounds, organize a walk to raise money for suicide prevention and film a documentary to publicize this terrible and prevalent occurrance, he pushes forward with determination while his family chooses not to support him and his efforts as they deal with their grief in their own ways.

Ethel Rohan does a fine job showing us some of the challenges of weight loss and the struggles brought on by suicide in broad strokes. Billy is a likable character and despite his lack of support from the family, the community starts to rally behind him.  I was rooting him on every step of the way as his effort picked up momentum. I found the relationship development with Billy and his wife and other children to be a little shallow at times and reenactment of playing with his deceased son with the wooden toys a bit odd for a grown man, but grief can be expressed in many ways. Despite dealing with the sensitive topics of obesity and suicide, The Weight of Him was a very enjoyable and quick read.