I adored this book. It tells the tale of two generations within a family. The Grandparents and a Grandson. It briefly touches on the middle generation but only really as a go-between so to speak.
In this book we meet Oskar Schell who is an incredbly bright nine year old boy who is very advanced for his years and seems to spend an awful lot of time feeling "heavy in his boots". He spends a lot of time thinking about his father and inventing things. Usually things that would improve life and make it safer for all around him. One of the most memorable ideas for me was his "smart buildings" which would pull themselves apart to let a plane pass through, before pulling themselves together again and thus erasing any chance of the world trade center disaster occurring again.
His Grandparents are equally complex. His Granfather being a mute with the words Yes and No tattooed upon his palms for communicating with people and many blank books with which to converse in a more detailed way. The Grandmother comes across as very fragile and yet moments of pure strength resonate through the pages at times and you forget that she wasn't always that way.
Oskar is on a mission. He found an envelope in a vase. The envelope contains a key and the only clue as to it's use is a solitary word written on the envelope. 'Black'. Oskar meets many different people as he searches high and low for the one lock that the key belongs to and the most memorable two of those characters for me are: An old gentleman who hasn't left his apartment in years and who keeps a file system of people. Each time he wants to remember a person he writes their name on a card along with one word to define them. The other character is a chinese man who collects I heart NY items and Oskar learns that Ny means 'you'. Oskar asks him why he loves everyone so much but the way I looked at it, was that the chinese guy was the one in need of love and thought the items were directed at him.
The book has a wonderful layout which is very unusual and at first can seem frustrating. When I first looked at the book I was worried I had printing errors but it is purely intentional. I was confused upon finding pages of numbers but when I started to read the book and saw the unusual quirks in the book, in the right context, it made perfect sense and was simply brilliant.
There are many photos in the book which add to the whole experience. The ones that slightly troubled me were at the back. Remember as a child when you would take sheets of paper, draw a stick man in different poses and flick the paper to make him move? Well the same is done with images of one of the trade center towers and a body falling. Only it's backwards so the body falls up. I wasn't sure it was exactly a good thing to have that image in there but like the other format changes in the book, it all makes perfect sense as you read along. At some point, I hope to come back to the number pages and translate them. The curious side of me is dying to know what it says.
This is one of my favourite books and I know I will read it again and again. If you haven't tried it yet, please do. I am sure you will love it just as much. I also found a favourite quote in this book that I know I will be remembering for a long time to come.
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.