My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
June 16, 2015
When I was little, my dad used to make up stories for me. My favorites featured “Meetah, the Cheetah.” Every story was basically the same: they began with an adorable little girl (who looked remarkably similar to me, of course) calmly traipsing through the jungle. Her journeys were generally uneventful . . . until the end. The stories always concluded with a surprise encounter between girl and cheetah. And they always culminated with my father yelling (when I least expected it to ensure the loudest screams and giggles of surprise and delight): “I’m Meetah, the Cheetah, and I’m gonna eat ya!”
Stories told to little kids can serve many purposes. They can elicit sheer, unadulterated joy (as the “Meetah, the Cheetah” tales did every time). They can expand kids’ vocabularies. They can encourage creativity and imagination. They can serve as memorable bonding moments. And, if the storyteller is especially skilled, they can serve as the secret vehicles for important life lessons.
The bedtime stories that Elsa’s grandmother, the titular grandmother in Fredrik Backman’s new book, told her about the Land-of-Almost-Awake did all of the above. The stories featured magical creatures like the sea-angel and a monster called Wolfheart and huge furry creatures called wurses. Sometimes, her grandmother told the stories in a secret language that she taught Elsa years ago.
When first we meet Elsa and Granny in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, they are in a police station. Elsa had a bad day at school (as she often does, due to bullying), so Granny decided to cheer her up. This meant that Granny broke out of the hospital (where she is confined with late-stage cancer), drove her car to Elsa’s house (despite the fact that she no longer has a license), helped Elsa sneak out, went to the zoo, and climbed over the fence into a monkey exhibit. When the police showed up, what did Granny do? She threw poop at them. Naturally.
Elsa is a seven-year-old who “isn’t especially good at being seven.” That is to say, she is extremely precocious, which, unfortunately is “why she doesn’t have any friends except Granny. Because all the other seven-year-olds in her school are as idiotic as seven-year-olds tend to be, but Elsa is different.” Granny is Elsa’s seventy-seven-year-old maternal grandmother, and she is crazy (“[I]n actual fact she’s a genius. It’s just that she’s a bit of a crackpot at the same time.”).
So, when Elsa sleeps over at the hospital one day and Granny never wakes up, Elsa is devastated. She has no other friends, no one with whom she can speak the secret language, no one to take her to the Land-of-Almost-Awake, and no one with whom to go on crazy poo-flinging adventures.
But Elsa soon finds out that Granny did some planning before she passed away. She created a huge treasure hunt for Elsa. The adventures require Elsa to find and delivery several letters to various people (all of which are apologies for things that Granny did in the past). As she delivers the letters and learns more about the apologies, Elsa finds out that there is a lot more to the stories from the Land-of-Almost-Awake than she originally understood.
Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove, is a perfectly adorable, light summer book (you can read my review from last week here). I enjoyed it a lot, which is why I read this book in such quick succession. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I am an absolute sucker for a novel with a precocious kid, so I was fairly certain I would like this book just as much as his first.
Sadly, it doesn’t measure up. It’s a touch too confusing/convoluted (mostly insofar as the Land-of-Almost-Awake stories relate to real life/real people). It’s a little repetitive. And the ending is a little rushed and simple and unsatisfactory.
But don’t get me wrong: this is not a terrible book. Backman’s specialty is clearly lovely, charming, sweet books. This one fits the mold. And it’s filled with quirky but loveable characters (who wouldn’t want a Granny who flings monkey poo at the cops??).
- an Indie Next List pick for July 2015
- a June 2015 LibraryReads List selection
Who should read it: Read A Man Called Ove first. If you like that one, go ahead and read this, too.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (a Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel in 2012; a Carnegie Medal in Literature Nominee in 2014; an Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee in 2015)
- Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry (an Indie Next List pick for May 2015)