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

By Ekta R. Garg

July 29, 2015

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Rated: Bookmark it!

A young girl thinks the hardest thing she has to endure is losing her grandmother to cancer—until her grandmother leaves the girl with a series of letters to deliver. Despite the girl’s deep grief, she begins the task and learns about the woman who was her grandmother and best friend. Fredrik Backman, author of the amazing novel A Man Called Ove, delivers another book to remember in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.

Elsa, an almost-eight-year-old, doesn’t have friends her own age, but she has someone better than friends. She has Granny, who isn’t the typical grandmother. Granny doesn’t wear cardigans and bake cookies. No, Elsa’s Granny breaks into the zoo in the middle of the night and drives like a mad person in her car, Renault. She launches elaborate protests to the newspaper company for sending circulars in the mail and shares her thoughts as soon as they pop into her head.

And she tells Elsa stories—amazing stories about a secret land where only Elsa and Granny go. The two share a secret language too, and Elsa knows that nothing is impossible with Granny. She also understands, as a child of divorced parents who have each found new partners, that Granny’s outlandish behavior acts as a diversion from the hardships of Elsa’s life. The kids in school don’t like her because she’s “different,” and with a new half sibling on the way Elsa can admit to Granny that she’s unsure of how her life will progress with the baby in the picture.

When Granny dies, though, all of the best things in Elsa’s life disappear…or so she thinks. Elsa learns that Granny’s spunky spirit still lingers; she’s left a series of letters for Elsa to find and deliver to various people. Quickly enough Elsa realizes the letters contain apologies to their recipients. Granny’s forthright, outspoken behavior often caught people off guard and sometimes offended them, and Granny knew that. So she takes the opportunity to apologize to them from beyond the grave.

As Elsa works through her grief and carries out her beloved grandmother’s final wish, she learns more about this woman who she had only ever known as “Granny.” In time, Elsa realizes, Granny held a special place in other people’s lives. Angry at first that she has to share her Granny with so many others, Elsa begins to understand that it is by sharing someone that we really keep that person alive.

Author Fredrik Backman’s second novel follows his phenomenal debut novel at the same level of skill, wit, and heart-wrenching reality. Once again Backman gives his readers characters who move into the mind and heart and stay there long after the book ends. In Elsa Backman creates a young girl liberated by the imagination of youth and entrapped by its limitations, and readers will want nothing more than to gather Elsa into their arms for a big hug.

Elsa’s Granny, too, deserves a special mention; she exhibits all of the classic traits of a grandparent willing to do anything to protect a grandchild. In Granny’s case that “anything” often rolls right over extreme limits, but she doesn’t care—and that’s exactly why readers will love her. Everyone needs a Granny in their corner.

The star of the book, once again, is Backman’s prose. He balances whimsical word choices with literary brilliance and takes readers along for a magical journey that brings them right back to what is good, and not, in their own lives. The cultural nuances of Backman’s native Sweden, where the book is set, only enhance the overall story.

I highly recommend readers Bookmark My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.

(I received a copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my unbiased, honest review.)