Book Review: Dear Edward

Inspired by a true story of one child’s incredible survival–riveting, uplifting, unforgettable.

After losing everything, a young boy discovers there are still reasons for hope in this luminous, life-affirming novel, perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett.

In the face of tragedy, what does it take to find joy?

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.

Edward’s story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery–one that will lead him to the answers of some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

Let me just say that this is NOT the kind of book that you’ll find yourself reading during a flight.

“Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano is a coming-of-age novel about Edward, a twelve-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed 191 passengers on board including his parents and brother. As the story unfolds, we get a perspective on the meteoric changes in Edward’s life as he was suddenly placed under the care of his childless aunt and her husband to deal with the tragedy’s aftermath.

Merging alternating timelines is probably the best writing structure to hook the readers to the story. Switching off timelines from Edward’s journey–his struggles to contemplating life anew without his parents to the events leading up to the plane crash allowed a gradual suspension of disbelief and tension. This was skillfully accomplished by the author’s insertion of some of the passengers’ individual experiences, thoughts, faults, apprehensions, and plans for the unforeseeable future into Edward’s narrative.  It is a heartbreaking read all throughout as we would all know what would happen eventually despite what we have come to know of the passengers’ proclivity for a renewed life. It presents life’s ultimate irony: that death is life’s ultimatum.

At times too upsetting to read, yet it also filled me with a reaffirmed sense to value life by changing my course of plans. The compelling truth about fiction is how closely it resembles reality and that the power of storytelling reveals in us the ugly truth of how spontaneous choices could alter not just our lives but of others as well. The narrative’s message is clear: life is short and death is uncertain and what follows is how we choose to deal with it.  

“Dear Edward” has awakened parts of me I thought were already dead: the passion for life, and the need to live for selfless reasons. Napolitano has written a narrative portrait of loss and grief and the strength to overcome the struggles that came with dealing with death. The heavy burden that Edward had to shoulder was not just attributed to the loss of his own family but having to carry the torch that was asked of him by those who were left behind.  How can one boy deal with the burden of having survived a tragedy while others perished?  How can he face life knowing that in exchange for his existence were the deaths of so many?  How can he possibly comply with the demands of the surviving families who wanted him to live the lives of those who died?  What is to become of him now that everyone is watching? These are questions that “Dear Edward” will answer from the perspective of a young boy who knew so little yet had to swallow a big chunk of life’s adversities. Edward’s narrative is one that stings but repairs; breaks but mends. It allows the readers a first-hand experience of life at the clutches of death that is both real and surreal.  One will surely end the book’s final chapter with sentimental tears, a substantial smile, and a pronounced but profound understanding of life. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Ann Napolitano

Genre: Coming of Age Fiction / Literary Fiction / Family Life Fiction

Length: 352 pages

Publisher: The Dial Press (January 6, 2020)

ISBN-10: 198485478X

ISBN-13: 978-1984854780

Book Review: The Dutch House

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

“The Dutch House” written by the award-winning author, Ann Patchett, tells the story about two siblings Maeve and Danny Conroy as they recount their lives living in the lavish Dutch House that their father purchased until they were banished from it by their own stepmother, Andrea Smith, whom the siblings suspected married their father only to have the Dutch House for herself.  

Written from Danny’s point of view, Patchett explores how Danny grew up not yearning for the love of his own mother, Elna Conroy, only acknowledging the fact that she left them when they were very young for reasons he could not comprehend.  Unlike Danny, Maeve’s painful longing their mother burdened her but somehow pushed her to become over-protective of her brother, acting more like a mother to him to which Danny was grateful for even though the path his sister wanted for him was not what he truly desired.  Agreeing to Maeve was Danny’s way of showing his appreciation for her tireless attention and love.  

But this is more a comparative narrative between two mothers: Danny and Maeve’s biological mother who left them without saying goodbye, and their stepmother who stripped them of their rights to their own house.  Who is to say which one is worse than the other when both women clearly left them to fend for themselves, to grow up without the guidance of a mother to tend to their needs, and for allowing themselves to feel unworthy of a mother’s love? I marvel at how Patchett presented the Dutch House as an object of desire for Andrea, but an object of disdain for Elna Conroy. Such desire and disdain ultimately ushered in the undoing of both Maeve’s and Danny’s lives.

Brilliant, touching and beautifully written, “The Dutch House” delivers an exceptional coming-of-age narrative of how two siblings longed for the opulent and majestic house that they have lived in as children plastered by the irony of its emptiness and bad memories.  I love how Patchett made Maeve and Danny visit the Dutch House, recounting their lives, the what-ifs, their hatred for their stepmother, and the countless ways they would have wanted to approach her, demanding their house back, while sitting in the car, eyeing the house. It is a moving tale of survival, sibling love, forgiveness, and what it truly means to move forward, leaving the past behind.  Just like any other piece of literary fiction, “The Dutch House” provides an insight into why people behave and act a certain way unknowingly setting off events that affect other people’s lives. How those whose lives were altered and broken were left with only hatred to hold on to and revenge to look forward to. But this novel somehow eased that burden. Patchett’s magnificent novel turns a somewhat ode to classic fairy tales about evil stepmothers and two siblings who have escaped a house made out of gingerbread from a wicked cannibalistic witch, into a work of fiction that proves things will turn out for the better in the end.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Ann Patchett

Genre: Literary Fiction / Historical Fiction

Length: 352 pages

Publisher: Berkley; Harper; 1st edition (September 24, 2019)

ISBN-10: 0062963678

ISBN-13: 978-0062963673

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

This magnificent debut novel has captured the heart and soul of its readers while maintaining its rank as one of the bestselling novels of 2018. Written by Delia Owens, an American author, and zoologist,  “Where the Crawdads Sing” is a written declaration of how one woman’s’ desire for love and affection, from what appears a lifetime of solitude, brings about a tale of survival amidst prejudice and discrimination.

This is the story of Kya, abandoned by her parents and siblings at such a tender age with nothing but the marsh left to teach her how to survive and live her growing years.  Kya’s narrative is a picturesque tale of a lone white woman who had survived years living alone in a shack in the North Carolina marsh, her existence educated and nurtured by the natural world.  As Kya learns to deal with her loneliness, she finds herself longing to be with someone who would fill the gaps left by her own family. Just as mother nature offered her bosom to Kya, she, in turn, allowed herself to be drawn to two men enamored of her bewildering beauty.  Hopeful for the first time in years, Kya’s grip on normalcy ushered in another challenge–one that she was unable to face: a murder case charging her as the only viable suspect.

What made this novel utterly compelling is the way Owens applied her profession and knowledge of animals’ fundamental biological principles to human interaction. The symbiosis that marveled between humans and animals is remarkably described and portrayed. Mutualism and the adaptive collaboration between Kya and nature are the heart and soul of this novel.  

Owens’s debut novel is a work of art; a tour-de-force similar to the rave and success accomplished by “How to Kill a Mockingbird”.  This book tackled a nuance of themes ranging from prejudice, racism, abandonment, survival to love, murder trial, and forgiveness. The lush imagery and lyrical prose that Owens was able to craft interlaced with such a heartbreaking but inspiring plot are what impelled the readers to this book.  I don’t think there is anything left to say about this novel that has not yet been published. “Where the Crawdads Sing” combines imagery, poetry, and suspense interwoven into the fabric of social reality. Armed with multitudes of learning moments and valuable experiences, Kya’s narrative begs us to understand how human behavior acts independently of the values held by social hierarchies and cultures. A novel that is worth the wait and will be among the string of timeless classics: a wondrous tale, sad but beautiful; compelling yet insightful. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Delia Owens

Genre: Literary Fiction / Coming of Age Fiction

Length: 384 pages

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Later Printing edition (August 14, 2018)

ISBN-10: 0735219095

ISBN-13: 978-0735219090