My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry


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I listened to the whole novel on audio so I was unable to note page numbers but I do have chapter references.  I also may spell some names incorrectly since I have nothing to reference.

Elsa is 7, almost 8.  She is "different".  She has trouble at school with mean kids.  She has a very special relationship with her grandmother.  I feel like this book could also be titled A Man Called Ove Meets C. S. Lewis.  There are a lot of adventures in a fantasy world much like the adventures the children have in Narnia with tons of symbolism.  There is also a repeat story from Ove about a character who gets out of their car to yell at another driver who keeps honking their horn.  Additionally there is a heavy dose of X-Men scattered throughout the novel.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex:  0

Religion:  2

Gruesome:  1

Suspense:  2

Morality:  4

Traditional:  2

Sex - maybe an implication between married people but nothing I recall

Religion - a funeral is held in a church

Gruesome - no spoilers but there is a stabbing however very little details that are gruesome

Suspense - there are a couple of suspenseful threads that are begun early in the novel but if this isn't the first novel you've ever read, you can probably figure out which way they ware going to run

Morality - this book is full of examples of people trying to do the right thing, even if they go about it in unconventional ways or their ideas about what is right are a little left of center

Traditional - one couple is divorced and one of them is remarried, another couple deals with an affair.  Elsa's grandmother never married but (obviously) had a child.  A reference to a boy in school with lots of boy friends (it's complicated).

Backman has a great way of seeing people as they are and describing them in such accurate detail that you are certain he has been spying on your life.  In Chapter Three he threw so many new characters at us, so quickly, and with so much detail - I felt like I should have taken notes.  In Chapter Six there was a brief disconnect when he said Elsa had been receiving notes from mean girls in her locker.  I've never known a school that assigns lockers to seven year olds.  But considering he writes in Swedish perhaps it was a translation error and should've said "cubby".  Small oversights like that are totally forgivable when he provides gems such as, "Elsa's eyebrows shot up as if they'd just sat down in wet paint."   

Backman devotes a lot of pages to a fairy-tale world that is symbolic of problems Elsa and others encounter in the real world.  Initially it was not clear how symbolic the fairy-tale would be and I didn't focus enough on the content of the tale which resulted in my feeling a bit lost in future fairy-tale references.  I was a little confused in Chapter Ten at the mention of the werewolf.  It seemed like it had been introduced previously but it was not familiar to me.  

Time also seemed to be a bit fluid in this story.  At one point Mum said she'd stay on at the hospital and Elsa knew it wasn't normal and then several days go by and she hasn't stayed overnight at the hospital.  Also several times Elsa says tomorrow is Christmas but then it turns out to be Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day and Eve seemed almost interchangeable.

In the last quarter of the book I had to re-listen to some parts because some surprising relationships were revealed and I wasn't sure I had heard it correctly.  I don't think the surprises were worth the wait.  I don't think holding back the info added anything to the story.  To the contrary, had I known earlier I might have been more intrigued by character actions.  I also had to re-listen to the part about someone having a heart attack because it wasn't immediately clear who it was - especially because the call to one character seemed irrelevant since we didn't yet know about the surprising relationship they had to the heart attack patient.

Discussion Questions

Elsa did not like her grandma comparing apartheid to not smoking in a police department.  (Ch. 1)
What are current trends in misaligned comparisons that are bothersome to you?

Elsa and her grandmother had a special language and a dream world. 
What special traditions did you have with your grandma?
Was the secret language made up or a foreign language?

Elsa's grandma taught her how to go to the Land of Almost Awake in order to fall asleep. (Ch. 2)
Where do you go before falling asleep?

What is your super-power?

"It's possible to love your grandmother for years and years and never really know anything about her."
(end Ch. 7).  Have you ever learned anything surprising about your grandmother?

What did the "worse" represent?

"Not all monsters look like monsters, there are some that carry their monstrosity inside." (Ch. 13)
Discuss how this quote relates to the characters in the land of the awake.

Did you figure out that the "woman in the black skirt" was also the drunk before Elsa discovered the connection?

"All daughters are angry with their mothers about something."  (Ch. 14)
What are you angry with your mother about?  What is your daughter angry with you about?

Elsa was a preemie but why is she different? She likes Halloween because you can be different.  
Does she have a condition, syndrome or diagnosis? (Ch. 16)

Do people drink (wine) to forget the things that hurt or to have the strength to remember? (Ch. 20)

"Death's greatest power is not that it can make people die, but that it can make them want to stop living."
(Ch. 21)  

Granny said, "If you choose to be a police officer, you can't choose who to protect.  You have to protect everyone."  How could this advice help police officers around the country today?

Brit Marie said, "If you don't care about anything you're only existing."  What did Brit Marie care about?
In reply Elsa said Brit Marie was "quite deep".  Several characters had deep thoughts.  What was your favorite?

Theme Ideas

Start a word jar.

Serve "Oh Boy" chocolate drinks and coffee like Alf in Chapter 22.
Serve Dreams like in Chapter 23.
Serve pizza and mulled wine like in Chapter 26.
Serve Swiss Meringues like in Chapter 29.
Have a buffet with everyone bringing a favorite (Christmas) dish.

Decorate for Christmas since this book was set in the Christmas season.

Play paint ball in honor of Granny.


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