My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
Frederik Backman


Elsa is having a hard time being different. She’s seven years old, gets beat up at school and her only friend, Granny has just died. Granny was the only person who made Elsa feel safe and important with her fairy tales from the Land-of-Almost-Awake, where battles are fought and heroes are made. Now Elsa feels angry and lost, unsure of what to do with the last thing Granny gave her, a letter and a key to deliver to a mysterious tenant in their building, The Monster.

What follows is a story within a fantasy world in which Elsa goes on a treasure hunt, delivering letters to the people in her building and learning more about her grandmother, whose mysterious and demanding career as a surgeon kept her away from home and largely absent from Elsa’s mother’s life. The tenants in the building are equally mysterious and quirky, but they all have a history with Granny, who rubbed many people the wrong way with her nonconformist ways.  As Elsa learns more about her neighbors, she begins to see that Granny’s secrets represent many heroic and unselfish acts of kindness, all with a price, however. A threatening enemy also lurks in smoky shadows and Elsa will need all the help she can get from her neighbors.

I’m not sure how to categorize this book. In many ways, it seems to be a children’s book, written in a third-person narrative, but with a child’s perspective and wholesome themes of courage, friendship and love. And although the story also deals with more adult themes of death, divorce and loss, most of the plot takes place in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, with characters from Elsa’s real life stepping in and out of that world.

I had a little trouble with this structure. As an adult reader, I was less interested in learning about a brand new fantasy land, a little bit like Narnia and with many references to Harry Potter’s world. Six kingdoms with similar names and an abundance of fairy tales and characters made note-taking a tedious requirement. In addition, while the story is mostly fantasy, young Elsa’s improbable precocious character doesn’t fit in the real world. Her vocabulary and insight represent someone way beyond seven (almost eight) years. The author also includes a great deal of repetition, presumed to help the reader understand the characters. Okay, perhaps if it’s a children’s story, but adding unnecessary pages to an already complicated tale.

But the message that “nothing really ever completely dies. It just turns into a story” is a nice way to teach children how to cope with loss and equally nice is the story’s conclusion that “…if a sufficient number of people are different, no one has to be normal.”

I recommend My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry to Harry Potter fans and fantasy readers who like quirky characters and happy endings.

I know lots of people loved this book. I struggled with it. What did you think? Do you think book ratings should represent a book reviewer’s personal taste?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

14 thoughts on “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

  1. I have this book on my Kindle, still unread. I downloaded it shortly after reading A Man Called Ove, and I’m not sure why I’ve hesitated….the cumbersome title alone makes me worry a little. LOL.

    Thanks for your review, and I suspect that this book will not be one of my favorites.

    1. Hi! I’m glad I read it because it helps to be aware of what is out there. I like some fantasy books, but I just couldn’t figure out where this one fit in. Thanks for stopping by and happy reading!

  2. I think a review of anything from food to art, will always reflect your personal taste (as do gifts). I think you have presented this review in a very balanced and fair way so your personal view is expressed but is not overpowering. Excellent review.

    1. Thank you – I try to see what others might see in a book, even when I don’t care for it as much. I do think that people who prefer certain genres just aren’t going to like other genres as much. Happy reading and thanks for stopping by!

  3. I loved this book and also the sequel Britt-Marie Was Here. Your review and impression is interesting to me because I am not a big fan of fantasy or Harry Potter, although I do enjoy the Potter movies. I didn’t equate Backman’s book as fantasy. I love the way he layers the complications of life and characters. My take was the book was about mother daughter relationships and people aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface. I enjoy reading your reviews and have found some good books to read through your blog. Thank you.

    1. Hi Chris – thanks for stopping by! I’ve heard Britt-Marie Was Here is really good and I thought her character was the most interesting. I like your perspective on My Grandmother. I think I struggled with it because I couldn’t get past the Land-of-Almost-Awake element, but you are right, there is a strong theme of mother-daughter relationships. I guess the book is saying that nothing is perfect and when people try to make up for it in other ways, you have to be forgiving, even if it takes years.

  4. Barbara, I’ve been waiting to see what you thought of the book and your hesitations mirror mine exactly! I think I finished it, but it was a close call. There was just something off on this one I felt which I don’t find with his other books and as you know I loved Britt-Marie. I wondered if he was trying too hard to capture the girl’s point of view but then collapsed into her world without lifting it for adult readers. I also agree her age seemed far older than nearly eight. Also ditto one of the comments on the title, very cumbersome…great review. 😀

    1. Thank you Annika – I was worried I would offend you because I thought you loved it! I should try the Britt-Marie book because I actually thought she was the most interesting character. I still can’t figure out the genre/reading audience but glad I read it to see what it was all about. I tried really hard to finish it last night but had to leave the last 40 pages for this morning…

      1. Barbara please never worry about offending me!! I love discussing books even if we differed hugely about them. If you ever get round to reading Britt-Marie, a word of patience…it takes about 40 pages to get into the real story and after that I just didn’t want it to finish! She is a fascinatingly complex character and becomes surrounded by an equally interesting group of people.

      2. Oh glad to hear, Annika! Thanks for saying that. I don’t take other people’s differing book opinions personally either, but it’s always good to check in with them. Is the woman in the black skirt also in the story? I also thought her character was interesting.

  5. This is helpful me as I’ve been reading A Man Called Ove by the same author. I’m struggling more with this one than I expected as so many people loved it. I’ll keep going and hope I join the crowd in my opinion.

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by. I haven’t read A Man Called Ove, but I know how popular it is. I think part of the reason I didn’t love My Grandmother is because I’m a little tired of the fantasy world style. Hope to see how you felt about Ove when you finish. Happy reading!

  6. I listened to this on audio and it took me a little time to get into it (like you, I preferred the real world to the fantasy sections) but I liked how everything was tied up at the end with all characters and their various stories coming together. I enjoyed A Man Called Ove (also on audio) and later as a movie, too. Again, it took a bit to get into but I think that’s one of Backman’s greatest skills: the ability to start with a not-so-likable character who you are totally rooting for by the end.

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