What do you do when your whole family is suddenly gone? How do you keep going, and how do you find any meaning in life? Even worse, how do you figure this out when you’re only 12 years old? This is the premise of Dear Edward, the best-selling book by Ann Napolitano. Young Eddie is on a plane bound for California with his parents and older brother when it crashes and Eddie is the sole survivor. He goes to live in New Jersey with his childless aunt and uncle, where he becomes Edward, a person he himself can’t recognize. He can’t sleep, can’t eat, and is sustained only by his friendship with his next-door neighbor Shay, who thinks he’s like Harry Potter: The Boy Who Lived. Gradually, from the 2012 crash until the book’s end in 2019, Edward starts to redefine himself and find his purpose, but it’s a long and bumpy road.
Napolitano does a masterful job with the story, telling it alternately from Edward’s point of view in the present and from the points of view of various people on the plane during its final flight. This juxtaposition gives the reader a fully developed understanding of what happened in the crash, but also context for Edward’s suffering outside his own thoughts. Napolitano’s writing makes Edward’s pain almost palpable, but it’s never melodramatic or overdone.
When I first learned of the plot of this book, I thought I wouldn’t want to read it because it might be too heartbreaking. It wasn’t, though. Sure, it’s sad, but ultimately hopeful, an ode to human resilience and kindness. Edward learns, as many of us do, that the only way forward is to love.