Saturday, May 16, 2015

Review: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

I have a dread of precocious child narrators. It's so hard to make them realistic and likable. The juxtaposition of knowing wisdom but no real life experience to support it is very hard to pull off in young characters. I had high hopes for Fredrik Backman's My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry since I absolutely, unreservedly loved his A Man Called Ove, despite the narration by a precocious seven, almost eight, year old girl. But as can happen when hopes and expectations are so high, there was no way for the book to live up to them.

Elsa is seven, almost eight years old, and her best friend is her nutty, opinionated, and cantankerous grandmother. Elsa is smart and imaginative and she love Harry Potter. She is also different from other children; she's being bullied at school and she is anxious about how Halfie, her half-sibling, will change her life. Her best escape from all of her worries is when she and Granny visit their invented Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where Granny tells Elsa wondrous fairy tales in their own invented language. When her Granny dies of cancer, Elsa can no longer find her way to the very precious land of make believe she and Granny created and she can't protect herself against the bullies who make her life so incredibly miserable. But the monster living on the first floor of her apartment building comes to her rescue and the wurse that lives in another apartment becomes her constant companion, helping her to cope with her loss and the big, scary things going on in her life. Her grandmother's strange final wish for Elsa was to deliver letters of apology that tell Elsa the story of who Granny was before she was a grandmother and how she was tied to many of the people Elsa knows. As she delivers her grandmother's letters of apology, she discovers a tangled and surprising web of interconnected relationships amongst the inhabitants of her apartment building, in the process building an extended family for herself.

The premise of the novel is charming and I hoped that it would contain some of the magic that characterized A Man Called Ove but it didn't. Elsa was too precocious and unbelievable as a seven year old. All of the secondary characters were intentionally quirky and the plot itself was overwhelmed and dominated by the long running fairy tale. Figuring out who each character was in the so-called invented story Granny told Elsa through the years and how they would all become heroes for Elsa became wearisome and another distraction from the story itself. The love between Elsa and Granny was clearly deep and abiding and retreating into the fairy tale was, for Elsa, a valuable coping mechanism but it became too repetitious. The reader didn't need the escape from Elsa's life so the continual retreat from it ended up being an irritant. There is a sense of poignancy and vulnerability in the story and for this child of divorce who is burdened with an ineffective father and a busy mother who finds the most love and acceptance from the grandmother who dies and leaves her but even that feeling isn't enough to save this otherwise rather saccharine tale. Read A Man Called Ove but be forewarned that this one isn't a patch on that one.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Sadly, I was afraid when I read the synopsis that this book was probably not going to live up to A Man Called Ove. It sounds a bit like Lost and Found, which I also found to be so quirky as to be unbelievable. I might just look for it at the library so I won't feel obligated to finish it if I don't like it.

  2. Elsa is absolutely believable; a classic example of a gifted child. Spending time with this quirky population would be well worth your time as gifted children make us think in different ways and realize the depth of their thoughts and feelings. The term "asynchronous development " describes how intelligence outpaces social and emotional skills and Blackman nails it.


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