'Dear Edward' Novel Explores Triumph Of Human Spirit After Tragedy

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"Dear Edward" by Ann Napolitano. (Allison Hagan/Here & Now)
"Dear Edward" by Ann Napolitano. (Allison Hagan/Here & Now)

Editor's note: This segment was rebroadcast on Feb. 10, 2021. Find that audio here.

How strong is the human spirit?

It's one of the questions that author Ann Napolitano explores in her gripping — some might say gut-wrenching — new novel "Dear Edward."

Her protagonist, Edward, is based on a young Dutch boy who was the sole survivor of a 2010 plane crash. Napolitano (@napolitanoann) tells host Robin Young that after hearing about that child, she needed to imagine a world where human kindness would allow him, somehow, to heal — and even, one day, to thrive. Her new novel does exactly that.

Book Excerpt: 'Dear Edward'

By Ann Napolitano

The National Transportation Safety Board’s “Go-Team” is at the site seven hours after the accident—the length of time it takes them to fly from D.C. to Denver and then drive rental cars to the small town in the flatlands of northern Colorado. Because of the long summer daylight, it’s not yet dark when they arrive. Their real work will take place at sunrise the following day. They are here now to get a sense of the scene, to simply begin.

The town’s mayor is there, to greet the NTSB lead investigator. They pose for a photograph for the media. Except for the handshake, the mayor—who is also a bookkeeper, because this town can’t afford full-time employees—tucks his hands in his pockets to hide the fact that they’re trembling.

The police have cordoned off the area; the NTSB team, wearing protective orange suits and face masks, climbs over and around the wreckage. The land is level in every direction, the surface burned, charred, a piece of toast blackened under a broiler. The fire is out, but the air is charged with heat. The plane sluiced through a cluster of trees and dug itself into the earth. The good news, the members of the team tell one another, is that it wasn’t in a residential area. No humans on the ground were hurt. They find two mangled cows and a dead bird among the chairs, luggage, metal, and limbs.

Families of the victims arrive in Denver by plane and car over the twenty-four hours following the event. The downtown Marriott has several floors reserved for them. At 5:00 p.m. on June 13, the NTSB spokesman, a man with acne-scarred skin and a gentle demeanor, gives an update to the families and media in the hotel banquet hall.

Family members perch on folding chairs. They lean forward as if the skin on their shoulders can hear; they bow their heads as if hair follicles might pick up what no other part of their body can.
Pores are open, fingers spread. They listen fiercely, hoping that a better, less crushing truth exists beneath the facts being delivered.

There is a cluster of elaborate flower arrangements in the back corner of the room, which no one looks at. Red and pink peonies in giant vases. A cascade of white lilies. They are leftover from a wedding held in the room the night before. This smell will keep several family members out of flower shops for the rest of their lives.

The press stands apart at the briefing. They avoid eye contact with the relatives during interviews. They develop their own tics: One man scratches his arms as if he’s been attacked by poison ivy; an on-air reporter fixes and re-fixes her hair. They disseminate the updates in live television interviews and through emailed AP reports. They focus on the “known” passengers. A plastics baron, famous for building an empire and automating thousands of employees out of work. A Wall Street wunderkind, worth an estimated 104 million dollars. A United States army officer, three college professors, a civil-rights activist, and a former writer for Law & Order. They pour facts into hungry mouths; this news story has captivated the world. Every corner of the Internet has weighed in.

A reporter holds up a copy of The New York Times to a camera, to show the huge block headline, the kind normally reserved for presidential elections and moonwalks. It reads: 191 die in plane crash; 1 survivor.

The relatives have only one question when the press briefing comes to a close; they all lean toward it like a window in a dark room: “How is the boy?”

Excerpted from Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano Copyright © 2020 by Ann Napolitano. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

This segment aired on January 14, 2020.


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