Written by Fredrik Backman
Let me see how many adjectives I can use to describe this book: dreamy, lovely, sad, poetic, joyful, imaginative, quirky, fun, unexpected, delightful, difficult…perfect.
Elsa is a young girl whose best friend is her Grandmother. Grandmother has filled Elsa’s life with a rich tapestry of imaginary worlds and fairy tales. When Grandmother dies, she sends Elsa on a quest that teaches Elsa about the world in which she actually lives.
I may be biased because Grandmother reminded me a bit of my Nana Hanley. As a child, she brought magic to our lives. She played dress-up and told stories. To quote my sister, “She taught us that we could be princesses or mermaids, and sometimes both.” I loved Grandmother’s mix of innocence and playfulness and street smarts. I was jealous that she didn’t seem to give a damn. And I adored her for the care she took with Elsa.
The other characters surrounding Elsa were rich. Backman tells the story through Elsa, so they initially seem like one-dimensional caricatures. Some do not even have names. But as the story progresses, so does their development. And you begin to see how they weave together to create something special.
And then there is Elsa. Elsa is seven or eight years old. She possesses an understanding and maturity that is far beyond that age. I did not really question it because Elsa is a weird kid. She is definitely a misfit, and her only friend is her grandmother. So it is not a huge stretch that she would be as smart and precocious as she is. But, more than anything, the mystical quality of the tale means it is not so unbelievable.
This book was a modern day fairy tale. From the very beginning it was otherworldly. I was jealous that I could not see the world in the same way that Grandmother and Elsa did. I smiled and I daydreamed and I cried.
If I had to pick one thing about this story that did not work, I would say that maybe it was Elsa’s maturity. At times she seems far too old. But then the context of the story, or something silly she does, pulls you back. And you understand her or forgive her for being more grown-up than she should be.
But that is if you made me pick something. Because if that is the weakest part of the story, it has definitely earned its five stars.
This book is displacing something on my list of Top 30 fiction books. Make no mistake, this book is both light and dark, like all the best fairy tales. I could not get this book out of my head. It made me look at people around me and want to know their stories. It made me smile and it made me giggle and it made cry. Big, sad sobs. And then it made me smile again. I finished this book, and I looked at my life and my loved ones with fresh eyes.
If you’re looking for light and quirky and hopeful, read The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. If you’re looking for a book that starts that way, and then gets darker and deeper and more stunning and more hopeful, read My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.