If I’d spotted this book on a shelf I probably wouldn’t ave picked it up. If I had picked it up and read the back cover I would have put it back down. Sure, it would have sounded like a potentially cute story, but definitely not something that would have appealed to me. Fortunately, I received this book as a birthday gift last year, and therefore felt obligated to read it through. I’m so glad I did.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is about a little girl named Elsa who is seven almost eight. Elsa lives in an apartment complex with a wide cast of interesting characters, from her mother and her mother’s boyfriend George, to Britt-Marie, to the woman in the black skirt. And her grandmother. Granny, as Elsa calls her, is her best friend. Because Elsa is “different” but so is Granny. At one point in the novel someone mentions that Elsa is special needs, but it’s never mentioned what exactly that entails. As far as you are able to see in the novel Elsa is just an incredibly bright, very imaginative, and independent kid.
Life isn’t easy for Elsa. Her mother is always busy with work, not to mention pregnant with a half sibling that Elsa worries Mum and George will love more than her because it won’t be “different.” But no matter what she has Granny. Granny stands up for Elsa when the kids at school bully her, she shoots they’re annoying neighbors with paint guns, and takes Elsa on adventures. But the best part about Granny is that she taught Elsa how to get to the Land-of-Almost-Awake, a magical kingdom where all fairy tales are made. It’s Granny and Elsa’s special place, and Elsa knows all the stories, because Granny has told them to her her whole life. Until Granny dies of cancer.
Elsa’s Grandmother was a very eccentric person, something that Elsa loves about her, but it also means that she wronged a lot of people during her life. When she dies she sends Elsa on one last fairy tale adventure through a series of letters, each addressed to someone that Granny needs to apologize to. By delivering these letters and learning about the people who receive them, Elsa also learns the secrets behind who her Granny really was and the truth about all of her fairy tales.
What an incredibly beautifully written novel. It’s written in third person from Elsa’s perspective, and the narrative and Elsa’s unique way of thinking and perceiving the world blend together so seamlessly that it’s difficult at times to distinguish Elsa’s thoughts and the narrators knowledge. This also has a lot to do with how incredibly smart Elsa is and how much more she understands about the world and what’s going on around her than you would expect her to. My favorite thing about this novel is that, even though it is very firmly grounded in reality, because it is told from the perspective of a little girl with a vivid imagination who lives in the world of fairy tales that her Granny created there is a wonderful sense of fantasy that runs throughout the novel. It almost reads more like magical realism than as a novel that fully exists in our reality. But I think that is a big part of what makes the perspective of a child like Elsa seem so authentic. Because isn’t that what being a kid is like? Living in world where magic exists as long as you can imagine it.
I love books that make me cry. They’re usually few and far between, but this was one. Although I read through it fairly slowly on the whole when I get to those last chapters I couldn’t put it down and read into the wee hours of the morning crying over it. That’s the sign of a good book I’d say.
This book has a little bit of everything. The mix between fantasy and reality, and the sense of magical realism will, I think, appeal to a wide variety of people. If you like fantasy novels let me tell you that the world building behind all of Granny’s fairy tales and the Land-of-Almost-Awake was amazing. I would read a book about that alone. If you want a book about genuine human relationships this is also perfect, because Elsa’s relationship with her Granny, her parents, and all the people her Granny’s letters bring her in contact with are deep and beautiful. If you want a mystery this book has that too as Elsa must unravel the truth behind Granny and all her letters. So read it, please, you won’t regret it. 5/5 stars.