This book gave me heavy boots.
Narrated by a very unusual nine-year-old named Oskar, this book takes place in the years after September 11th. He is a precocious child always interested in obtaining more knowledge about everything that is going on around him. He is also a pacifist, a vegan, a musician, intellectual, and brutally honest and earnest. Oskar's dad was killed in the collapsing towers and that has left Oskar with a lot of paranoias surrounding the terrorist attacks (he will not, for example, ride in an elevator or take the subway).
However, when Oskar finds a key in a blue vase in his father's old study, a series of amazing events begin. He is extremely interested in where the key came from and where it belongs. Along his journey to discover the mystery of the key he meets a series of interesting and unforgettable characters who are all affected by and effect Oskar in amazing ways.
There is also a separate, but interconnected, story line that weaves its way throughout the story. The narrator in these bits of the story are Oskar's paternal Grandparents. They tell the story of their younger selves and their courtship and life together before their separation and the birth of Oskar's father. This section of the book is presented in a series of letters written to Oskar (or, perhaps his father, it's unclear), telling the hows and the whys of their lives.
Now, why does this book give me heavy boots?
I wanted to LOVE this book. And, as it was I really liked it. I just had a hard time getting into the story and I think that's because of Oskar. Granted, by the end of the book I loved him and was sad to see it end. He's an interesting character, and an even more interesting narrator. But, he was hard to warm up to - and I think that was probably a major way that Foer wanted to write him. Because, in real life, if you met an Oskar, he'd be hard to get to know. But once you get to know him? You love him. It was still a bit of an obstacle as far as getting into a book is concerned. (It was also really hard to read a page of prose that never uses a single period. That was just odd and threw me for a loop a few times where I had to go back and reread a page to make sure I didn't miss something).
It is a beautifully written book - heart breaking and full of warmth and hope at the same time. Oskar's story tugged at my heart - as someone who lived through 9/11 it's impossible for it not to (and, working with middle schoolers these days, it's still weird to me that there are people alive who didn't and cannot understand what that felt like. I cannot fathom 9/11- something of my lifetime - just being something that exists only in history books already). It was also a hard read because I'm as close to my parents as Oskar was to his - I cannot fathom having something so tragic happening to either of them. And the backstory that ties Oskar's life into his family's? That just made the whole story that much more powerful to me.
I do think that everyone should read this book because it's about something that we can all relate to and have lived through. The moments that occur throughout its pages are beautifully crafted and will stay within me always. It gives me heavy boots because it's so uplifting but still so hard to read at the same time.
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Genre: Contemporary Novel
Date Read: 17 September 2012
First Line: What about a teakettle?
Favorite Line: Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living.
Recommended For: Everyone. But probably later High School and beyond to fully appreciate what Foer has so masterfully crafted.