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

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
Hardcover, 370 pg.
Atria Books , 2015
Read: November 20 – 24, 2015

If you don’t like people, they can’t hurt you. Almost-8-year-olds who are often described as “different” learn that very quickly.

That lesson was impressed upon Elsa pretty hard, which has left her with a very small group of people that she likes (but, like most 7 year-olds, she really wants to like people) — although in many, there’s only one person in that circle for Elsa — her grandmother. Elsa’s grandmother was her best friend, her superhero, the most devoted adult in her life.

Elsa doesn’t do that well in school — doesn’t get along with teachers or classmates — but thanks to Wikipedia, knows all sorts of things in very random areas. She’s utterly convinced of the importance of the Harry Potter series and other “quality literature,” like Spider-Man comics.

She used to write letters to Santa every Christmas, not just wish lists but whole letters. They weren’t very much about Christmas, mainly about politics. Because Elsa mostly felt that Santa wasn’t involving himself enough in social questions, and believed he needed to be informed about that, in the midst of the floods of greedy letters that she knew he must be receiving from all the other children every year. Someone had to take a bit of responsibility.

Following her Granny’s death, Elsa is given a series of letters to deliver to various people that her Granny has helped in the past, but who’ve had problems with her since. This eventually involves adventures (things both 7 year-olds and adults would consider adventures) and a lot of personal growth. As she delivers them, Elsa learns a lot about who Granny was before Elsa came along, and finds herself in a much larger world than she’d previously been able of living in.

This is just charmingly written, sweetly told, and it’ll draw you in with the language. Backman and Koch show a delight with language and people that will surely win you over. It’ll make you smile, it’ll make you giggle, it’ll make you melt a little — if your grandmother’s alive, you’ll want to give her a call — if not, you’ll miss her more than usual.


4 Stars


Opening Lines – My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero. That’s just how it is. Anyone who doesn’t agree needs their head examined.

That’s what Elsa’s granny says, at least.

Elsa is seven, going on eight. She knows she isn’t especially good at being seven. She knows she’s different. Her headmaster says she needs to “fall into line” in order to achieve “a better fit with her peers.” Other adults describe her as “very grown-up for her age.” Elsa knows this is just another way of saying “massively annoying for her age,” because they only tend to say this when she corrects them for mispronouncing “déjà vu” or not being able to tell the difference between “me” and “I” at the end of a sentence. Smart-asses usually can’t, hence the “grown-up for her age” comment, generally said with a strained smile at her parents. As if she has a mental impairment, as if Elsa has shown them up by not being totally thick just because she’s seven. And that’s 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.

She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different–look at superheroes. After all, if superpowers were normal, everyone would have them.

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

It was really hard to stop where I did, I wanted to use the first three pages, but am pretty sure that it’d get me in copyright trouble.