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Nine-year-old Oskar Schell adores his father, Thomas. Oskar is something of a genius, so he never fits in at school, but his dad sort of becomes everything to Oskar. And then Thomas Schell dies in one of the towers on 9/11. Two years later, Oskar still isn’t handling this well. Snooping around his dad’s closet one night, he finds an unusual key. Oskar becomes obsessed with finding the lock the key opens. His dad used to set up complicated scavenger hunts for Oskar, so this is sort of one last game they can play together. But for Oskar, it’s really more than a game. He’s hoping to find some answers about his father and maybe even finally find some peace.
I don’t think I would ever have picked this up had it not been chosen for one of my group reads GoodReads. But I’m so glad I read it. I was in love with Oskar within the first five pages or so. He’s too smart for his own good, he’s funny, and he’s broken. What a combination. He’s every bit as endearing as Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird or Reuben and Swede from Peace Like a River. He really makes this book.
So I’m reading along, and I’m thinking, “This book should really be called Extremely Funny and Incredibly Heart-Breaking.” That’s how it was. Oskar would have me giggling out loud one minute and then he would talk about how he’s invented a bird-seed shirt, so that if you’re ever falling off a skyscraper, the birds would all come get you and fly you to safety. Just heart-breaking. But by the end, for me, anyway, it just got to be all heart-breaking. That’s why it only got four stars. It was really, really, good, I loved Oskar, it handled the subject of 9/11 very well, but it just got to be a little too sad for me. I know, I know, it’s a book about 9/11, how can I knock it for being too sad, but there you go. I am.
Still, I do recommend it, if only so Oskar Schell can join the ranks of unforgettable characters from literature.
Reviewed November 8, 2008
According to the Marshall University website, this book has been challenged for containing “profanity, sex, and descriptions of violence.” Um, really? It’s a book about 9/11. It was a violent day. We all wish it hadn’t been, but it was, and we’re trying to heal ourselves and honor those we lost. This is one way some of us do that. Don’t even think about taking away books that help readers heal. Profanity? Yes, it’s there. Oskar is hurting. That’s one way he acts out. But this is a book that is shelved in the adult section. I think we can handle it. I imagine that teachers using it would only teach it to teens. They can handle it as well. Sex? I don’t remember that. Either it wasn’t there, it was tame, or I’m a big nympho. (Hint: No one would ever think about calling me a nympho.)
Read an excerpt.
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