My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
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?
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