I’m a pussy and won’t actually ride a rollercoaster (I hate amusement park rides) but reading this book was what I’d imagine riding a rollercoaster in the dark would be like. You never knew when it was going to go up, drop down, go upside down, stop on a dime, speed up, etc. etc. so every time you’d turn the page, it was an emotional surprise.
The main character and primary narrator of the book is a nine-year-old boy named Oskar who is precocious and I put that in italics because that’s the description that everybody and their dog uses to describe Oskar. I tried to think of another way to describe him so I could be unique, but couldn’t. So I’m just like everybody else when I say that Oskar is precocious. Oskar is also…well, to be perfectly honest, he’s a little weird. He speaks French. He makes jewelry. He plays the tambourine. He's a vegan but makes an exception for dehydrated ice cream. He’s obsessed with Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History in Time (uh-huh, okay). He says shiitake and VJ instead of shit and vagina. And while he has the ability to befriend any adult he comes into contact with, he is teased at school and doesn’t get along with most of the other kids. Poor kid.
Oskar’s father was killed on 9/11/01 because he was in the World Trade Center for a business meeting that morning. Oskar and his father had a very special relationship and his father was the parent Oskar felt the closest too. His father recognized that Oskar was an unusually bright child and gave him clues for things that Oskar was supposed to solve. Oskar and his father had been involved in one such mystery when his father was killed and Oskar is upset that he’ll never discover what it was his father wanted him to know. And so missing his father and feeling panicky and insecure about the terrorist attacks becomes Oskar’s guiding mission in life. Almost everything he says and/or does can be tied back to that morning and what happened.
Toward the beginning of the novel, Oskar discovers a mysterious key with his father’s belongings. His father had written the word “Black” in red pen on the envelope and since it doesn’t belong to any of the locks in the apartment he shares with his mother, Oskar realizes the key was to be the final mystery his father left for him to solve. And so he sets out to solve this mystery and meets many people on his self-imposed journey.
Beyond that, the book is a bit difficult to explain. It doesn’t move in a linear fashion and jumps back and forth between Oskar’s attempt to solve the mystery of the Black key, his grandparents memories of the bombing attacks of Dresden, Germany when they were young people, their courtship, the PTSD his grandfather suffered after the attacks and his eventual abandonment of his family as a result of his emotional problems. If you draw comparisons between Oskar and his grandfather, you can’t help but wonder “what next?” for Oskar.
I enjoyed this book. It made me cry. I laughed. I didn’t want to put it down. But parts of it didn’t exactly live up to the expectations that were set forth in the beginning. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but if I do, I’ll come back and update. In the meantime, I’ll give it 3.75 stars officially but round it up to four.