Warning: “Dear Edward” is not meant for the faint-hearted or anyone with a fear of flying. “Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano is the story of a young boy, Edward, who is the sole survivor of a plane crash that took the lives of his family and the other 186 passengers. The book shifts from Edward’s present-day perspective to those of eight other distinct characters on the flight, tracking their experiences from boarding the plane to the final moments preluding its fatal crash.
The intensive buildup leaves the reader craving to read more, and the dramatic irony of the plane’s inevitable crash steadily heightens as you delve deep into the minds of the passengers: their problems, struggles, regrets — all of which seem minuscule under the weight of death waiting to take them all. All but Edward.
Several issues are brought to light through these characters: abusive relationships, sexuality struggles and identity crises. “Dear Edward” is not a fairytale; just like the unpredictability of life, the plane crash is not something for which the characters are prepared. They are not actors who know how the scene ends, characters experiencing a flashback or omniscient narrators of their experiences. Having the story told as a novel makes it more engaging, more real and more devastating to witness the evolution of each character’s priorities and dispositions before they collectively sink into their imminent deaths.
The increasingly chaotic setting on the plane contrasts from that of the solemn and quiet perspective of Edward. While Edward’s chapters focus on him as an individual, the chapters occurring on the plane switch frequently and rapidly between the specified eight characters onboard. Accustomed to the isolation of characters usually exhibited in YA novels, I initially found the constant shifting difficult to follow. Nevertheless, because each character is so unique (an injured soldier, a dying Wall-Street sensation and a free-spirited woman amongst the eight), a sort of rhythm is established within the perspective shifts and it becomes easier to decipher who is who, solely based on the voice Napolitano uses for the eight characters.
While the plane chapters were always gripping and suspenseful, leaving the reader waiting for the realization of the unavoidable terror, they were often very similar. The shift between the characters aided the range of these chapters, but often it felt repetitive with each character retelling their increasingly apathetic thoughts. The anticipation of the crash initiated at the beginning preemptively made these sections seem tedious and dull until the height of the conflict arose.
Until the real drama finally makes its appearance, Edward’s chapters maintain the reader’s interest. When first introduced, Edward is Eddie: the innocent 12-year old boy preparing for his family’s move to Los Angeles. Soon, though, he becomes Edward, the boy that readers are desperate to protect. He is physically weak, emotionally destroyed and achingly lonely. Time passes slowly for him; he does not overcome his trauma quickly — or even at all — by the time the novel ends. Napolitano shows that healing is not something that happens overnight. The false expectation can complicate dealing with trauma in one’s own life, but Edward’s story is reassuring in that his problems are not miraculously solved.
While Edward attempts to heal and adjust to his new life, he finds some solace as he uncovers information about the deceased passengers. He does so with the help of his close friend, Shay, who later comes to mean much more. She is the first character post-crash that is not blinded by Edward’s situation. She is the honesty in this book — like Edward, she recognizes that while this is an uncommon situation, he is not the only person facing a tragedy.
The two work together to discover more about the passengers, and more importantly, the people whom these passengers left behind. Their research supplies the reader with more knowledge as they turn the page and enter the predestined aircraft once more. This choice helps tie the stories together — that of the crash and the sole survivor — and soon, the distinct qualities of the eight significant passengers are hinted at in Edward. He struggles to do something, to be someone, in honor of those who died and those who loved them, yet fails to realize they have already become a part of him forever.
As time goes on and Edward grows older, healthier and stronger (both physically and mentally), his chapters become shorter; he is less focused on surviving and more on living. The most important lesson Edward learns, and the most comforting to the reader, is that healing does not mean growing out of our pain or forgetting about it. Healing means learning how to live with it.