I know, I know, this was one of the ‘most anticipated’ books of the year. And I know lots of readers have really enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure, but picked it up on account of its grief-lit potential.
Now I realise that I’m not the right audience for Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano.
It’s the story of twelve-year-old Edward Adler, who’s on a flight to Los Angeles with his parents, brother, and 183 other passengers, when the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.
I felt optimistic about the grief-lit potential when the story began at the airport and then jumped forward to post-crash. Excellent, I didn’t particularly want to read the ‘action’ around something we know (from the blurb) happens. But then Napolitano switches back to what happens on board the plane, and introduces a number of other characters, including a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, and an elderly business tycoon. From there, the story shifts between the dual narratives – what happens on board the plane before the crash and what happens afterwards. The structure of the novel is obvious and tedious.
In terms of how grief was examined, there were some notable moments – instead of confronting Edward about his circumstances, Edward’s new school principal gives him the job of tending some precious ferns, and through this shared task, they form a friendship. The principal is perceptive and caring, without pandering to Edward – a contrast to the other adults in his life who were doing whatever it took to ‘make him happy’ (which Edward says makes him feel worse because nothing makes you happy when your ‘…whole life fell out of the sky’).
Equally good was the way in which Edward slowly understands that he does not have the monopoly on grief. For example, after months of living with his aunt and uncle he realises that when he lost his mother, his aunt lost her sister. Understanding his loss, and that of the families of the other 183 passengers becomes central to the post-crash story. The way Napolitano introduces this – through letters people write to Edward, the ‘miracle boy’ – again becomes quite repetitive in terms of structure. It culminates in a Hallmark ending which I’m sure lots of readers loved, but left me rolling my eyes.
Toward the end of the story, another important grief theme is introduced. Edward asks his counsellor when he will be ‘over’ his loss. His counsellor explains that his grief is not going away and that ‘…what you’ve been working on…is learning to live with that.’ My interest in grief stories is exactly that – seeing how people learn to live with something that is incredibly painful. Because they do learn.
This book is well written but I felt it fell short in terms of creative structure and emotional depth.
I received my copy of Dear Edward from the publisher, Viking Books, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Before his death, Edward’s brother Jordan had become a vegetarian. Hummus sandwiches featured heavily.
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (Jun 20): Belfast 10°-19° and Melbourne 10°-17°.