Ever since the Harry Potter movie series (which came out long after I read them), I vowed to read a movie’s book before I watched the movie. I find it far easier to view the movie with its overwhelming lack of character and plot development after I read the book. I’m so entrenched in the characters and their lives and feelings and I learn things along with them – and that’s something a movie repeatedly fails to deliver. Trying to read a book after viewing the movie leaves me wishing I knew the characters first before I saw the shadow of who they are on the big screen.
Thus, when the movie companion to this book was released, I made it a point to read the book first. I could tell by the previews for the movie that this book would require a lot of my attention to the characters, their experiences, and an open mind to experiences and feelings I might not have felt myself.
Ultimately, I was right – there were a myriad of feelings I’ve never really had to delve deep into, and this book made my boots heavy. I get the sense that I am missing an entire dimension; I’m missing a whole layer of understanding that adds depth and understanding to this subject matter. I want to connect, but I’m not sure I can at this point.
The premise of the book is heartbreaking – a young boy who lost his dad in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks finds what he believes to be a scavenger hunt “sent” by his departed Dad. A curious key within a blue vase up on a high level shelf in the back of a quiet closet kickstarts Oskar’s quest through the streets and boroughs of New York. He is looking for the owner of the key, someone he’s certain knew his dad. Someone who will have known his dad well enough to provide knowledge so deep it will further connect Oskar and his dad together, even posthumously.
Parallel to Oskar’s plight is a deep and painful life history of Oskar’s grandmother and grandfather. Their lives are tragically connected, and while their relationship is sparse, tense, and full of rigid rules, there’s a higher connection that cements them together in a way that makes sense : Anna. Horrifying imagery of the Dresden bombings and the fallout thereof, this portion of the story is gripping.
Overall, I’m left feeling a little bewildered. I’m feeling like I either don’t get it on a cellular level because I haven’t experienced tragedy quite like Oskar and his grandparents have, or I’m supposed to feel bewildered. Oskar’s life was flipped on its ear in one unanticipated moment, as were his grandparents’ lives.
I enjoyed how much feeling this book evoked in me. Re-living the 9/11 attacks through the point of view of Dad in the book was brutal. I recommend reading the book, and if I ever get around to watching the movie, I’ll let you know if I recommend that, too!