Grandmother is in her late 70’s, and her health is failing. She is stoic, unusual and very rambunctious, but she is also ornery, contrary and fun to be with for her almost 8 year old grandchild. She can only be described as whacky, but a really nice whacky, as far as Elsa is concerned. Elsa is 7, almost 8, and she can only be described as very precocious, old beyond her years, nerdy, but nice nerdy. Elsa likes everything to be exact in perfect grammar and spelling. Elsa has a near perfect memory and studies lots of things using Wikipedia. No one has explained to her that it may not be the best way to learn, since not all things on Wikipedia are accurate.
Elsa and her grandmother have a very unique, loving relationship. Often, though, it seems as if her grandmother is the child and Elsa is the adult who knows what is right from wrong. Nevertheless, this grandmother teaches Elsa what is important in life, and in her own quirky way she attempts to make things right in the world. Actually, she spent her life trying to do just that. Grandma spins yarns to make life easier for Elsa. She takes her to fairytale places with fairytale characters, and soon it is hard for the reader to decide if she is telling Elsa a story to help her get through the travails of childhood, or if the story has already happened in some way, in real life. Elsa’s grandmother is in the habit of rescuing those who are different, those who suffer, those that seem needier than most.
Is Elsa living inside a fairytale? Is there a bit of magic afoot? There are certainly magical creatures and even a magical wardrobe. There are allusions to famous children’s books and Elsa has her favorites. She approaches the world with the mind of a child, but understands in the way of adults, at times, in bits and pieces, though, not completely. She knows that adults often don’t tell her the entire truth to protect her, (and sometimes she doesn’t either, to protect them), but she always sets out to discover what it is anyway. She also interprets life through her books, books that she calls good literature, like the Harry Potter series, of course.
When Elsa’s grandmother dies, Elsa is grief stricken. She is angry with her grandmother for leaving her. Furthermore, her grandmother has left her with a puzzle to solve. She has to find a series of letters and deliver them. It is through these letters, that those people grandmother apologizes to learn to solve their problems, with Elsa’s outspoken help, that is. Elsa asks the most awkward questions, at times. Neither she nor her grandmother has a proper filter through which to sift the right and wrong ways of doing things. Both simply react and do what moves them at a particular moment in time. Elsa’s Grandmother flaunts all the rules. Elsa learns that some rules, perhaps, need to be broken to accomplish a greater goal. Grandmother has no patience with triviality or injustice. She hates war but understands that sometimes war is necessary to preserve a way of life. She tries to teach Elsa how to survive life’s roadblocks. She knows Elsa might actually be the brightest bulb in the room.
The story is told with innuendo and tongue in cheek humor and an occasional word that is crude, especially from the mouth of a child. Sarcasm is often used to express a particular principle. Many ideas presented have double meanings, so even though the book’s style is rather juvenile, and hard to get into sometimes, in the end it will leave the reader with lots to think about, although it did take me almost 300 pages to figure out that the book really had a greater purpose. I was actually reading a fairytale for adults, complete with odd creatures, both good and bad, a fairytale meant for adults because it splayed open and tackled the world’s most difficult problems head on: politics, religion, the problems of being different, abandonment, war, good and evil, life and death, bullying, lying, secrets, divorce, remarriage and the children involved in the kerfuffles, sibling rivalry, sexuality, cancer, autism, terrible loss and grief, fear and danger, the norm and the abnormal, tragic natural events like tsunamis, tragic unnatural events like car accidents, and even environmentalism. You name it, little was left out. There was no problem that was too difficult for grandmother to deal with, often at the expense of her own family. She was, however, noble in purpose, and she inspired Elsa to make her own heroic effort to solve problems and help others. Too bad we don’t all live in a fairy tale. Too bad we grow up and make things complicated. Too bad we don’t often notice our own heroes.
As each of the characters is developed by the author, a more adult concept is realized, although it is a tale told through the eyes of a child. Through the letters, and what then transpires, Elsa, and the reader, learn the relationship between the real characters in her life and the fairytale characters of her grandmother’s stories. The book is not a page turner, but, like “A Man Called Ove”, it sure tackles the ills of society and is definitely worth the read. Be patient, it does come together in the end. Perhaps it is only through the innocent, unambiguous eyes of a child and the world of the make-believe, that all of our problems can be solved.