I first heard about this book during a finals round at the National Forensics Tournament in 2006. One of the students in that round did a 10 minute cutting as Oskar Schell, and I was entranced by the voice of this little boy who had lost so much on September 11, 2001, and who was living under guilt that people four times his age couldn’t handle. My heart broke for this little boy who had lived with such tragedy.
The story is really two stories woven together as a family learns to live again after 9/11 and the death of Oskar’s dad, Thomas Schell. Each member of the family deals with the grief of this loss differently, and while we most clearly see Oskar’s journey, we also see Oskar’s mother as she learns to relate to Oskar and Oskar’s grandmother as she deals with the loss of her son and relives the loss of his father.
Oskar is a brilliant child who, for fun, writes to various people asking to become their assistants. Throughout the book, Oskar takes on the part of Yorik, dismisses his French teacher, and begins a search for the lock that goes with the key that Oskar found in a vase in his father’s closet. As Oskar travels all over New York City, he meets fascinating characters including his upstairs neighbor who is over 100 years old and hasn’t left his apartment in years as well as a woman who lives on the top of the Empire State Building. Each of these characters, in some way, expands Oskar’s view and helps him as he comes to terms with the death of his father.
I love this book. Since my first experience with Oskar, I’ve both listened to and read this book. While listening to it was enjoyable and engaging, the book itself is also a typographical work as the author uses font, layout, and even whitespace as he creates some of the most unique modern characters. In either format, written or audio, this is an engaging book primarily, I believe, because of the strength of the characters.