By Fredrik Backman
Grade Levels: 7+
Fredrik Backman, author of NYT Bestsellers like Anxious People and A Man Called Ove, has another gem that gets right to the heart of what it means to be human and fallible. First published in Sweden in 2013, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry was then translated into English in 2015. It was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award in 2017.
In this novel, we follow Elsa, a seven-year-old girl who has never quite fit in with the people around her. Her grandmother has always been her best friend who was able to help her understand the world. When her grandmother dies, she leaves Elsa with a series of quests to fulfill to help her understand the complexity of the world on her own.
This story straddles the realms of fantasy and reality. While there is no real magic in the book, there is a great deal of imagination. Like most children, Elsa lives partially in a land of make-believe and depends on the stories her grandmother told her to understand the world around her. It is a captivating take on how a child can understand a complicated and imperfect world by relying on the strength of her imagination. Elsa learns to understand the truth of the people around her, the complexity of their lives, and how no one ever truly fits into a single box, including her own family.
As we follow her through each quest, we learn about the power of stories to shape our world. Backman demonstrates this theme with incredible pacing and growth, from the very first moment in which Grandmother tries to break into the zoo to the last moment when Elsa understands that Grandmother’s “super powers” came at certain costs. Elsa’s relationships deepen, old wounds heal, and everyone finds the courage to accept their own foibles-all through the power of stories.
The story has a wide cast of characters who represent a swathe of diverse people. Backman’s ability to create dynamic, multifaceted characterizations of even the most minor person in the story brings out the themes of human connection and complexity. This is a story that can touch the hearts of every age group as it pulls at what are ultimately universal human experiences. Everyone is seeking connections, everyone is building their own story, and everyone has a deeper heart than the surface may show.