My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was a delightful surprise. My sister sent it to me on audio, because she thought I'd like it. She knows my reading tastes well, apparently.
Elsa is seven years old, going on 8. Her best friend (and only friend) is her grandmother, 77 and going on 78. The book opens with Elsa and her grandmother at the police station, after the grandmother distracts Elsa from having been bullied at school by breaking into the monkey enclosure at the zoo and throwing clods of dirt (declaring they're monkey poo) at the security guard.
Not your ordinary grandmother, in other words.
Elsa and her grandmother share a series of fairy tales about The Land of Almost-Awake, and the Kingdom of Miamus within that land. In Miamus, Elsa and her grandmother are knights, and, though granny's adventures are behind her, she fills Elsa's ears with all her tales, and spurs her on her own adventures.
But the grandmother hasn't told Elsa she's dying of cancer. Elsa only finds out just before her granny succumbs. But then, a quest arrives from the grandmother, asking Elsa to deliver a letter telling someone she's sorry. Delivering the letter successfully continues the quest.
The characterization in this book is beautiful. Everyone is filtered through Elsa's perspective, and yet we see the whole picture of everyone. There are villains in the story, but they're still people, human and flawed and loved by someone. Those Elsa cares about, she's always finding a reason to love them, or at least admire them.
Despite the protagonist's age, this is not a YA or kids' book. People swear, and there are concepts such as war, substance abuse, tragedy, grief, and domestic abuse, which could be difficult for young readers to parse. Elsa is precocious, reads about anything she doesn't know about on Wikipedia, and has no tolerance for being talked down to. Her grandmother's fairy tales help her grasp some of the concepts in the book, but her exposure is often frightening or upsetting to her.
And yet, despite the dark themes within this book, the overwhelming feeling when it ends is warm and fuzzy. Elsa insists throughout the story that it has to have a happy ending, and, despite nothing turning out the way she expects, she gets her way, in that.
If you're prone to emotional responses to books, this one is apt to make you burst into tears, probably at several points in the narrative. But I can almost guarantee it will also have you laughing. And you'll almost certainly see stories, or grandmothers, or falling asleep, a little differently.
Give this a read. You'll be glad you did.
I listened to this on audio, narrated by Joan Walker. She did a lovely job, both keeping up the fairy-tale kind of tone throughout, and pronouncing a lot of difficult vocabulary created for this book. She had a lot of distinct voices for different characters, and I was never confused who Elsa was talking to in any given moment. Not once did her narration pull me out of the story; it enhanced it, if anything.
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