Review: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
Do you remember, as a young child, that one fantastical story which captured your imagination? Of course you do, because it’s the story that molded your childhood. It’s the story that filled you with a new wonder about the world around you, and of all that was possible. For me it was the story of Robin Hood. It had adventure, dashing heroes, young love, forests to explore, castles, and evil villains. I read many versions of Robin Hood in my youth and have probably watched every movie or TV show made on the subject. It’s stories like these that help us—when we’re children trying to understand the world—to discover our own role in the world.
MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY by Fredrik Backman captures the wonder and joy these kinds of stories have for us. Now, I know MY GRANDMOTHER is strictly a fiction novel, there’s no fantasy, not even any unexplainable events—just so you know, because I don’t want you to read it expecting that. But I’m sure you do remember what it was like to have those fantastical stories of your youth permeate your life and shape the kind of person you want to be. This is the book that will help you re-live those days.
Elsa is seven and precocious. She has trouble with the other kids at school because she’s “different”—she’s clever, observant, and a total nerd (she loves Spider-Man, among other things). She feels more at home with adults than children; especially with her grandmother, whom Elsa considers her best friend in the whole world. She’s the person who taught Elsa the secret language, about the Land-of-Almost-Awake, and the kingdom of Miamas. Elsa knows her grandmother would do anything for her and would love her no matter what. Unfortunately, grandmothers can’t live forever, and early in the book Elsa loses her grandmother to cancer.
However, Granny doesn’t leave without planning a series of quests for her granddaughter. At first, Elsa believes the envelopes her Granny leaves her contains simple letters that she must deliver to the neighbors in order for Granny to communicate her apologies—mostly as a result of Granny’s interference in their lives. But none of it turns out that simple. You see, Granny didn’t live a quiet life, it was spent traveling all over the world, using her “superpower” (as Elsa would call it) to navigate the world’s chaos and help where she was needed most. As a doctor it involved saving lives in places torn apart by war or disaster. But, there’s more to it than healing just the body, and as Elsa soon discovers, she may have to take over Granny’s long-term cases still in the process of healing. You would think this would be too much to ask of a seven-year-old; however, Granny knows her granddaughter very well.
Needless to say this is a real-life fairytale about the power of stories to inspire and heal.
Told from the PoV of a girl whose observations of adult behavior are hilariously candid and insightful, MY GRANDMOTHER follows Elsa as she navigates a world without her grandmother in it. She despairs that her life will never be the same—and it won’t—but her wise Granny finds a way to help Elsa discover a new purpose. The pacing is terrific, moving the reader through the story effortlessly, and despite its almost 400 pages is quickly read.
Backman’s characterization is excellent, from Elsa (sure she’s a little too adult to be a believable kid, but I went with it) to the grandmother to the eclectic assortment of neighbors and family. There’s a large cast of characters, but each is easily recognized and even the secondary characters are multifaceted—all of them feel authentic. The neighbors all have their role in the story and it’s immensely enjoyable to watch as Backman weaves Granny’s and Elsa’s stories through theirs. Granny’s stories of Miamas turns out to have real meaning, and watching Elsa come to this realization about how the magic of a secret kingdom applies to her everyday life is satisfying. I did have a few unexplained questions at the end of the novel, but I think my imagination can fill in the details.
MY GRANDMOTHER explains the reasons why we tell stories. So if anyone mocks you for reading so many fantasy novels (because “they aren’t real!”), point them to this book and maybe then they’ll understand a little bit why–yes!–fantasy stories have value.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: Nothing crass, but there’s a fair amount
- Violence: Moderate peril; a beating without details
- Sex: References of affairs (without detail)
Backman is Swedish so the novel is translated, but I honestly couldn’t tell. So kudos to the translator, he did an excellent job.