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‘Dear Edward’: The True Story That Inspired Apple TV’s New Hit Series

Colin O'Brien as Edward and Taylor Schilling as Lacey in Dear Edward

Dear Edward arrived on Apple TV+ on February 3 and is gearing up to take viewers on an emotional ride. The series is based on the novel of the same name by Ann Napolitano and follows the story of Edward Adler (Colin O’Brien), a 12-year-old boy who becomes the sole survivor of a plane crash that claims the lives of his entire family, including his beloved big brother Jordan (Maxwell Jenkins). Edward goes to live with his Aunt Lacey (Taylor Schilling) and Uncle John (Carter Hudson) and soon begins receiving letters from people around the world who are inspired by his miraculous tale.

In addition to following Edward’s journey through grief as he navigates life without his family, both the book and show also explore the lives of others who lost loved ones in the plane crash. Meanwhile, as Lacey tries to support her orphaned nephew, she is also struggling with infertility and coping with the loss of her sister. In the first three episodes of Dear Edward, the characters have already begun connecting through support groups and aiding one another in the healing process.

In the show, people are drawn to Edward and begin writing him letters because, as his uncle states, “he survived.” Viewers may also find themselves drawn to this miraculous tale, leading them to wonder if it’s based on a true story.

Is Dear Edward based on a true story?

'Dear Edward' book cover
(Dial Press)

Part of what makes Dear Edward so intriguing is that it is inspired by a true story. Author Napolitano revealed that her book was inspired by the story of Ruben van Assouw. Ruben was a nine-year-old passenger aboard Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771 on May 12, 2010. Tragically, the plane crashed less than one mile from the runway of the Tripoli International Airport. Of the 104 passengers and crew on the plane, 103 were killed in the crash. Young Ruben was the sole survivor. Sadly, like Edward, Ruben lost his mother, father, and older brother in the plane crash. After recovering from some non-life-threatening injuries, he returned to the Netherlands to live with his aunt and uncle.

Ruben’s whereabouts are not known today. His aunt and uncle have protected his privacy and virtually nothing is known about his life in the Netherlands after the crash. Edward’s life with his aunt and uncle, and the letters he receives from around the world are works of fiction. However, his mother Trudy had a travel blog in which she shared her and her family’s adventures before the crash. Immediately after the crash, many internet users flocked to the blog and left hundreds of comments, the majority of which were messages of condolences and well wishes for Ruben.

In an interview, Napolitano explained hearing Ruben’s story and fearing how he would go on with life after the loss of his family. Since she couldn’t know how his life turned out, she created a story in which a boy in a similar situation did find a way to heal. Napolitano said:

“I think I couldn’t let go [of Ruben’s story] because I was both deeply worried about Ruben and deeply curious about how he could go on after such a terrible tragedy. His aunt and uncle did an amazing job of protecting Ruben’s privacy once he was released from the hospital, but that meant I couldn’t know that he became OK. I had to create a set of circumstances under which a little boy in that situation could believably become a whole person, in spite of – or even because of – what he’d lost. I needed him to be OK, so I had to write my way into believing that was possible.”

(featured image: Apple TV+)

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Rachel Ulatowski is a Freelance Writer, blogger, and aspiring author. As a Freelancer Writer she hopes to give readers the same comfort and enjoyment that she finds in all things nerdy and noteworthy, as a blogger she enjoys snarking on YouTubers and reality stars, and as a future novelist she hopes to raise awareness for child abuse through literature.