My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact.”
I don’t like reading about bullying but recently I’ve read two books where the initial premise is bullying. First, I read Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood and shortly afterward, this book by Fredrik Backman. While bullying is not the main theme it seems to underpin both stories. In Cat’s Eye it is a small group of girls picking on one girl and in Backman’s book it is more general – a school picking on Elsa (age 7) because of her being “different”. What strikes me in both stories is how ineffectual most of the adults are in protecting the children. Elsa’s granny encourages her to fight back, “Kick him in the fuse box” she says, and Elsa does but still lands up in the principal’s office and, usually, held to have done something to provoke the bullying and not walking away. Only when her grandmother was alive was the school principal pulled up about that. Elsa has learned to run away, and to run away fast. She has learned to fib about the bruises and scratches. Most of the time she lies to protect the bullies (from her grandmother). The hate-filled notes that are left in her locker she destroys by tearing into small pieces and depositing in wastebaskets all around the school. Remember, she is only seven years old. She uses what resources she has to protect herself.
The bullying parts of this book made me angry as they did in Cat’s Eye. The types of bullying are different but the distress is not. Different personalities react differently to bullies. In Cat’s Eye, Elaine is subjected to bullying by her abusive ‘friends’ and believes she deserves it. Elsa, on the other hand, may not name it bullying per se but she reacts to the abuse (physical, mental and emotional) positively. She runs, she fights back and she never, ever snitches on the bullies.
There is an element of fantasy in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. The blurb on the jacket says, “Firmly in league with Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman. I would have to agree on both counts. There is another world that Elsa escapes to when the going gets really tough, The Land of Almost-Awake. Her grandmother showed her the world and the told her the tales of the magical land. They speak another, secret, language that her grandmother taught her when she was very young. According to the questions and answers on Goodreads, the language is Esperanto.
If I have some of the qualities that Elsa’s grandmother has, I think that would be a fine achievement.