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It is a hard book to read without becoming emotionally involved.

Dear Edward - Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano, author; Cassandra Campbell, narrator

When the author learned about the 9 year old, lone survivor of a plane crash, it inspired her to write this story. She wanted to believe that someone could survive such a terrible traumatic event and still go on to have a productive life.

For most of the book, the author develops the lives of several passengers on a plane flight from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California. This plane will not reach its destination. As she delves into the lives of several of the passengers, to reveal their character, she reveals also, those that are often forgotten. She explores the lives of those that mourned the victims of this tragedy, and in so doing, she gave life to both those that died and those who grieved.

The author takes the reader through the flight and explores the passengers’ reactions to each other, at first and as the time passes. Often, their initial reactions were surface, and as a result, inaccurate and selfish. They were not happy about being forced to sit with complete strangers with personalities they might not like and sizes and shapes that might infringe upon their personal space. However, each passenger comes with his own story, and as they communicate about their pasts and dreams of their future, they become more amenable to each other. They adjust to this temporary situation.

The author has chosen a diverse set of passengers. Each has a unique lifestyle. One is a soldier who is returning home. One is a woman who believes she has lived many lives. One is an elderly, wealthy man who resents his declining health and is traveling with a nurse, one is a family moving across country, one is a woman who has discovered she is pregnant and is hoping her boyfriend will want to marry her. One is a successful young businessman. Each is thinking about what comes next in their lives, not when it will all end. The atmosphere on the plane as it goes through the “turbulence” is very tense. The disaster is palpable. The fear of the passengers, their thoughts while they believe in a future contrast sharply with their thoughts as they realize they might not have one.

Eddie Adler’s family was moving to California for his mom’s new job. He had not wanted to move at all, and now, alone, the lone survivor in his family, his life is forever changed as he has to live with his aunt and uncle. He is confused, memory impaired temporarily and lonely. He is still in terrible physical pain from his injuries. The author paints a picture of his difficult recovery, exposing his fears, his thoughts, his questions and the general turmoil he experiences as he tries to adjust to his new life. As he matures and recovers, she endows him with an almost superhuman ability to reason things out and solve his own problems, often with more maturity than the adults around him. There are few outbursts or moments of extreme frustration and pain that one might logically expect from a young boy who has suffered such an enormous loss and such a horrific trauma. Edward Adler, in his new life, proceeds to understand and show compassion to those reacting to his needs. Most often, he responds intellectually instead of emotionally. He seems to be able to intuitively know what he needs to do in order to survive, and he is permitted tremendous leeway by those surrounding him, to allow him to make his own decisions in this regard. His youth and the trauma he survived grant him special favor, at times, from the adults and figures of authority that are involved with his life. In a manner beyond his maturity, he seems willing to take their advice most of the time, and he rebels and resents that authority only minimally and briefly. Often, it is he that makes it easier for those around him to adjust to him and the angst surrounding him in his unwanted celebrity.

Helping him to recover is the 11 year old daughter of his aunt’s neighbor. Together, Edward and Shay work to resolve his problems and hers, for she is experiencing the rebellion consistent with a mother/daughter relationship as she tries to assert her own independence. She has suffered loss as well, although nothing compared to his. Her father is absent, having abandoned them when she was just two years old. As the years pass and their friendship deepens, their experiences sometimes seem to lack authenticity as they do things without consequence that push the envelope of reality.

The author moves back and forth in time and place from the plane trip to Edward’s new home with his aunt and uncle. As the reader watches Edward recover and mature, as his experiences are explored and he grows somewhat overwhelmed with a need to do something, to act out and help others who were not as lucky as he, we see that he is fortunate to have adults to guide him that are thoughtful and compassionate, and also unique in their own way. His therapist, his school principal, his aunt and uncle, his neighbors are all key players in his recovery.

When he discovers the letters his uncle had hidden from him, that were from people involved with the victims of the plane crash, he begins to read them and to remember and relive the experience. This takes place three years after the disaster that took the lives of all those passengers. Rather than upset him, the letters open the door to his further recovery as they help him to remember and further come to terms with what we can call his survivor’s guilt.

The narrator reads the novel well, allowing the characters to lead her so she does not make herself an integral part of the story. The book is a difficult read as it is an emotional roller coaster. I believe the book would have been better if the romantic side of it was less developed, although the relationship between Eddie and Shay was a very important and vital part of the narrative. I think some of the crude language was unnecessary. At times, scenes like the one illustrating “the mile high club” experience seemed to me to demean the ultimate intent of the author. If the author’s purpose was, as she said, to provide hope that someone could survive such an experience and go on to have a successful and fruitful life, the crude references could have been left out.