It took me a bit to get in to this one, but in the end it was definitely worth it. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is about a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell whose father was killed in the 9-11 terrorist attack. When Oskar accidentally breaks a vase in his parents' bedroom, he finds a mysterious little key in a small envelope. Determined to find out what the key meant to his father and what lock it opens, Oskar journeys all over New York city meeting people from all walks of life and asking questions about his dad and his feelings and life and the universe and so much more.
Oskar is a peculiar child to say the least. Not a huge fan of child narrators, I was a bit annoyed with him at first. He'd say things that, in my opinion, didn't sound like a nine-year-old at all...even a very strange one. However, as I continued reading the book, I did get to know him as a character better, and I felt that perhaps some of his strange behavior was ok because of what he'd been through. It was clear to me that he was a strange kid before his father's death. I liked him in the end, and as you read the book, no matter what you think of the narration or style....you feel for the kid. He's been through a horrible tragedy and I think we'd all be allowed to do whatever it took in order to deal with those feelings.
The book has an interesting subplot involving the Oskar's grandparents. I enjoyed this plot line but didn't feel that it really connected to Oskar's story in the end. To me it just all seemed a bit much. Unrealistic.
What I can say, though, is that there are some heartbreaking moments in the novel. Oskar's mother struggles daily to understand and move on from her husband's death. As a reader, it hurt so much to see how strained and awkward the relationship between Oskar and his mother was at times. They are a new kind of family now that Thomas (the father) is gone, and it broke my heart to see them struggle with finding ways to feel and think and be without their dad. It's been ten years since the tragedy, yet it seems like we are all still figuring it out. Yes, people move on. Yes, the smoke and dust settle, but lives are never the same. After reading this book I was reminded of the importance of family. Every day on the news we see that people have been hurt or killed. By weather, storms, tornadoes, accidents, terrorists, gunmen who kill people in public places...it doesn't really matter what gets you in the end. Death comes for us all. People are left behind by their loved ones every day, and it's never easy. We do what we can to deal with the loss and hopefully we are surrounded by a few others who can help us through the days that follow.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of September 11 and as I digest this book, I feel like we need to simply remind ourselves how lucky we are to be here living and learning in this country. Each day is a gift. It's so easy to get swept up into the business that is life and school in America. Yes, we must work hard. Yes, we must do our jobs. Yes, we must read books and complete assignments and write papers. But let's always remember that people and relationships matter and that the books and papers and discussions help us to understand ourselves and our world better. Let's remember that life can change in an instant and it won't matter what score you got on your last Calculus exam or English essay. I count myself blessed that I am not Oskar, that I did not lose someone I know in the terrorist attack. By reading his story, however, I am reminded of what I must do. I must love my family as much as I can each moment because you never know what each day holds. So, I do recommend this book. It's different, but moving. I am glad I read it and my heart goes out to all who lost loved ones ten years ago and those who lose loved ones at any time. Life is never the same, but love is still here on earth for those who are left behind if we hold on to the people around us and make the most of every moment.