Get your tissues and heart ready. Here comes 2020’s most outstanding piece of contemporary fiction.
Title: Dear Edward
Author: Ann Napolitano
Publisher: Dial Press Random House
Date of publication: 27 February 2020
Format read: Advance copy
Rating: 5 stars
One summer morning, a flight takes off from New York to Los Angeles. There are 216 passengers aboard: among them a young woman taking a pregnancy test in the airplane toilet; a Wall Street millionaire flirting with the air hostess; an injured soldier returning from Afghanistan; and two beleaguered parents moving across the country with their adolescent sons, bickering over who gets the window seat. When the plane suddenly crashes in a field in Colorado, the younger of these boys, 12-year-old Edward Adler, is the sole survivor.
When you read as much as I do, you encounter many characters, you visit hundreds of places, you jump from the past to the present and vice versa. When a book is good, feelings stay with you. Lines get seared in your memory. And once in a while, you meet the book – a tsunami of emotions triggered by words that, taken apart, would be considered harmless, but woven together in a way few authors master, become weapon and they tore through every wall of protection you have built around yourself.
In 2019, I drowned and was reborn with After the End by Clare Mackintosh. In 2020, my heart was torn apart and put back together by Ann Napolitano.
I am a sucker for rules. I don’t dog-ear books. I don’t spill anything on them. I pay attention so they look as pristine as possible when put on my shelves. I didn’t do this with Dear Edward. My proof has lived a life of smiles and tears. Drops of pasta water, battered corners, a creaked spine. This novel breathed with me for two days. Why am I blabbering about this? Because it is important to notice it. I am proud of this used copy. I have squeezed everything out of it, and it did the same with me! I survived this book stronger, lighter of many tears, and content. Yes, content. I have learned and I drank the words as if they were water and I was in a desert. When you pick this book, I hope it gives you everything it gave me.
Now, off with the sappy and weird introduction.
I love to fly. I used to fly to book festivals. I now fly home very often. It makes me feel free. So many lives in a plane, with goals and hopes and fears. One destination, but many paths to walk. I often wonder what people are doing, thinking, what they want and who they love. Being stuck in a plane is a special thing. You share toilets and pressured air for an hour or twelve.
For Eddie and his family, the flight from NY to LA meant a new life. They left everything behind to build another home because Eddie’s mum, Jane, is a screenwriter. Bruce home-schools his two boys and teaches them to be open-minded and ask questions. Jordan is fifteen and testing boundaries, he is floating the weird waves of teenager-hood. Eddie is twelve. Not a kid anymore, not a teen yet. He is at the threshold of life, surrounded by loving parents and a brother he is so close to he could be his shadow. To anyone’s eyes, just another family. To me, after 336 pages, they mean so much. I relate to characters and always look for someone to root for but this goes beyond anything I have read before. Ann Napolitano has shaped faces and thoughts that made me feel more than I thought I was capable of. I am not a mother, I don’t like kids. Yet you will never take Eddie away from me now. I roll my eyes at eccentric people sometimes, but Florida makes me smile when I think of her. There is someone for everyone in this book. In as well as out of the plane. How?
Dual narration. While one life gets rebuilt, a hundred and ninety-two fly to their end. Yes, I included Eddie in this count. Yes, official documents state 191 dead. But part of Eddie died too. Enters Edward, a boy we get to know in pieces, some he knows and recognises, most he blocks, but all feel strange and sterile, they don’t belong to him, as he doesn’t belong to this planet without Jane, Bruce, and Jordan. I have been rewriting this review for some time now and I can’t find the right words to express how the author’s prose is painfully magical. It hurts and it heals. It is detached and yet rooted in Eddie’s heart. Eddie goes to live with his aunt Lacey and her husband John. Erase that ‘been there done that’ Dursley feeling, because those two are the complete opposite kind of relatives. They have their own storyline, filled with love and hope and sadness, all in a little family house… which from now on will shelter a kind of family none of them had expected to become a part of. I felt love and gratefulness for Lacey and John. Watching them try, fail, try again, learn. Watch them grieve too. And grow.
I know I have been talking a lot about pain here, but Dear Edward is a breeze of love. So, love hurts. But love heals (no, I am not repeating myself, I am merely trying to convey the awesomeness that the author captured in her novel and I am lost for words!) Love is clumsy, and love is weird.
While Edward and her new family do their best to cohabit, through months and years, the past is revealed through slices, hours ticking like a bomb. Chapters take you into that plane. You meet the soldier, the old guy, Eddie and his family, the stewardess… They won’t mean anything to you when you read this, but I promise they will be fully fleshed when you greet them in the book. So fully fleshed I willed myself to stop reading at times. I wanted them to live a little longer. If I stopped, they wouldn’t die. This is how big this novel is. I wanted to stop time for characters to get a few more minutes to breathe and think and feel. To be alive. Dear Edward is astonishing this way. It made me wish I were a God and I could make things better… And yet, I also longed for Edward, only survivor of this terrible crash, to discover how to be himself, how to … I was going to write ‘move on’ but how could one move on? No, I wanted Edward to find himself with Eddie, that part of him lost in the air. And to grow.
‘Understanding is overrated.’
How do you process such a tragedy when you are twelve? How does your brain cope? How does your body keep on functioning? Ann Napolitano reaches the sky with a deep and intense exploration of what it takes to survive, and to live.
When I think of the narrative style, mixing the present of the plane, and Eddie’s future, I am conflicted. Both side of this linear space are gripping, heart-wrenching, for different reasons. Reading this novel, I felt a tornado grow inside of me. I was overwhelmed with emotions many times. Happiness. Physical pain. I mean it. I could feel Edward’s pain. Curiosity. Hope. Oh, read me, going back to listing feelings!
In a nutshell, Dear Edward is an inspiring and heart-wrenching story about loss and love. I urge you to read it. I beg you to make room for this masterpiece in your heart, for it made me grow as much as it let Edward go…
Pre-order your copy here or go with the ebook version.
I would like to thank the publisher for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. This review is my unbiased opinion.
Dear Edward was published by Dial Press in the United States, and by Viking Penguin in the United Kingdom. The novel currently has fifteen international publishers.
Ann lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.