Reviewed by Ambrea
Elsa is seven years old; her grandmother is seventy-seven. Elsa is different from most kids—intelligent and bright and socially awkward, she’s intimidating to most kids her age; her grandmother is crazy, as she describes, “standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy.” But they’re the best of friends. Each night, Elsa and her grandmother travel to the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, a place of stories and fairy tales and strange creatures where no one is normal and everything is different.
However, when Elsa’s grandmother dies, she leaves behind a series of letters—a string of apologies to deliver to those she has slighted over the years—and Elsa is tasked with delivering them. Her grandmother’s letters eventually lead her throughout her apartment building. She meets the wurse, a monstrous creature with a fondness for chocolate and cookies and milk; she encounters The Monster, the rather terrifying stranger who lives on the next floor; and she makes the acquaintance of other misfits whom her grandmother helped, which takes her on an adventure both unexpected and grand.
I loved reading My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Although it took me a little time to sink into the story, especially when so many characters became involved, I absolutely loved Backman’s novel. I enjoyed the authentic—sometimes explosive, sometimes heartbreaking, but always genuine—emotions in this book; I enjoyed the sheer oddity of it; I enjoyed the threads of danger and adventure woven into the story. Moreover, I enjoyed Backman’s storytelling, recounting the tales of Wolfheart and the Wurse and all the fairy tales of Miamas. I even enjoyed Britt Marie (and that’s saying something).
Overall, I loved reading My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. I especially liked the characters: they’re so different. Each has his or her own history that changes them, makes them a unique personality—and yet they’re all tied together by the thread of Elsa’s grandmother. She brings them together in an oddball quest to deliver letters, to apologize for the wrongs in her life and rectify the things she can no longer fix.
But Elsa, I think, was my favorite. She’s a smart, headstrong little girl. She’s read the Harry Potter series numerous times, she’s proficient in her grandmother’s “secret language,” and she’s a frequent purveyor of Wikipedia, an avid researcher of the mundane and the obscure. She’s such a unique personality, I couldn’t help liking her—and, of course, her crazy, paintball-gun-wielding grandmother. They give the novel a distinctive flavor that makes it one-of-a-kind. I couldn’t help but fall in love.
Admittedly, I loved the entire thing, even the parts that were difficult to read.
In his novel, Backman sometimes shows the worst side of people: drugs, alcohol, grief, bullying, social and behavioral problems, and more—so much more that it will break your heart. He’ll show readers things that are hard to see; however, he’ll balance these things with unexpected humor and insight and heartwarming moments of friendship, compassion, and love. I would call his novel bittersweet, because it so closely mirrors life.
Readers see the good and the bad, all the difficult sides of human nature, all the struggles that weigh us down on a daily basis, but he always shows the sweeter things in life. Like best friends and wonderful mothers and good stories and loyalty and, wonder of wonders, laughter. Sometimes, life isn’t always good, but this book makes you feel like things will get better in the end. Grief hurts, but friends and family can help bear the burden.