Published: June 16, 2015 (in English)
First Published in Swedish: Sept. 4, 2013
“Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero. That’s just how it is.“ For Elsa, her grandmother is her superhero, however as the book progresses Elsa begins to notices superpowers in all those close to her. This book has a childlike honesty and curiosity to it. It is told from Elsa’s 7 year old perspective. There is much humor and sweetness to this book.
It is a heartwarming quirky tale that begins with the relationship between a grandmother and her 7 year old granddaughter. Granny is eccentric and will do anything to protect and guide Elsa through life. The 7 year old Elsa is a wise-for-her-age little girl who comes across as “different” from her peers and is the subject of bullying at school. Her best and only friend is her grandmother. The grandmother goes to great lengths to distract Elsa from her rough days, including a scene where Elsa and her grandmother sneak into the zoo late at night and when the police arrive, Granny proceeds to throw animal poop at them.
After Elsa’s parents divorce, Granny weaves a series of fantastical fairy tales that take place in a world that Elsa thinks only she and her grandmother know about, the “Land-of -almost-awake.” The grandmother also teaches her a secret language so they can speak to each other without others knowing what they are saying.
Elsa is not told by the grandmother that she is dying until just before her death at which point she is sent on a mysterious mission whereby she must deliver a series of letters. Through this process of letter delivering Elsa develops a better sense of who her grandmother was, her grandmother’s relationship with her mother, as well as understands the relationships of those living in the building with her. These people in her building become sort of an extended family for Elsa.
This fantastical world that Granny tells to Elsa serves as a framework for the Elsa to understand the relationship between all of those around her. She realizes that these fantastical stories are actually true stories about those around her, and seemingly becomes wiser and more grown up as she understands this. She appreciates the people around her better, their relationships to each other, and feels more connected to them.
While reading the book, I wondered at the seemingly random titles given to each chapter, but they came together perfectly in the last paragraph of the book.
While the book was originally written in Swedish, it really could have taken place anywhere. There are a few Swedish cultural references, such as Daim chocolate bars.
Two other covers. I find it interesting that another English version (published in Australia) has a different title.
- What do you think made Elsa different?
- Why do you think the grandmother stopped working when Elsa was born?
- Why don’t you think Elsa was ever told directly of the grandmother’s connection to all of the people in the building?
- Do you think Britt Marie was changed by her bad marriage? How do you think leaving the marriage will affect her? Fredrik Backman has published a novel about Britt Marie in Swedish, that has not yet come out in English. What do you suppose Britt Marie’s future adventures will entail?
- If you read, A Man Called Ove, how does this compare?
- If Elsa were describing you as a character in this book, what superpower would she ascribe to you?
- What country or countries do you suppose these refugees living in the building are from?