A contemporary fairy tale from the whimsical author of A Man Called Ove (2014).
Elsa is almost 8, and her granny is her best—and only—friend. Elsa’s precociousness and her granny’s disregard for societal rules mark them as trouble to most people they encounter and make Elsa a pariah at school. But every night she can journey with her granny to the Land-of-Almost-Awake, made of six kingdoms, each with its own strength, purpose, and interlocking mythologies that Elsa knows by heart. In the Land-of-Almost-Awake, Elsa doesn’t have to worry about how she fits in at school, in the apartment building full of misfits where she lives, or in her family, where both her parents are divorced and remarried and her mother is pregnant. When granny passes away with very little notice, Elsa is bereft. And angry. So angry that it’s almost no consolation that Elsa’s granny has left her a treasure hunt. But the hunt reveals that each misfit in her apartment building has a connection to her granny, and they all have a story reflected in the Land-of-Almost-Awake. Neither world is short on adventure, tragedy, or danger. This is a more complex tale than Backman’s debut, and it is intricately, if not impeccably, woven. The third-person narrative voice, when aligned with Elsa’s perspective, reveals heartfelt, innocent observations, but when moving toward omniscience, it can read as too clever by half. Given a choice, Backman seems more likely to choose poignancy over logic; luckily, the choice is not often necessary. As in A Man Called Ove, there are clear themes here, nominally: the importance of stories; the honesty of children; and the obtuseness of most adults, putting him firmly in league with the likes of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman.
A touching, sometimes-funny, often wise portrait of grief.