In Ann Napolitano’s “Dear Edward,” 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash — a study in before and after.


Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.


Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.


’Boys & Sex’


Peggy Orenstein’s “Boys & Sex” is a candid information on what boys really think and do when it comes to sex.


After spending more than two decades examining the lives of girls, Orenstein realized that “if I truly wanted to help promote safer, more enjoyable, more egalitarian, more humane sexual relationships among young people, I needed to go back into their world and have the other half of the conversation.” Boys and parents of boys will thank the author for her work as she shares the complex sexual world she discovered via interviews with more than 100 young men, psychologists and other experts. She exposes the trashy locker-room talk prevalent in athletic circles and how it is difficult for boys to speak up against such behavior for fear of losing their own place in the male world. She gives graphic, sometimes unsettling descriptions of boys and their consumption of pornography, which many use as their only source of information on what a sexual relationship should entail. Orenstein also shares numerous stories about boys realizing their inappropriate behavior with girls, and she chronicles how, even while they feel shame and regret, they may still avoid self-criticism in order to fit in with their peers. The author is inclusive in her study, portraying the experiences of a wide variety of boys, including people of color and gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Orenstein effectively covers the issue of consent and includes stories of men who have been aggressively forced into sex by girls, and she also shows how girls can damage a boy’s reputation by sharing specific details of an unsuccessful sexual encounter. Ultimately, the author’s research opens up a welcome forum for exploring “a hunger for more guidance about growing up, hooking up, and finding love in a new era.”


A highly constructive analysis that provides many topics for exploration and discussion by parents and others who interact with boys.