I just finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I picked it up for two reasons: 1) It had a big red hand on the cover, and 2) A library patron, when she returned it, said that everyone should read this book. I always take such comments with a grain of salt, but in this case I’m glad I heeded her advice.
Not your average kid
The narrator and protagonist is a young boy named Oskar who is by no means your typical nine-year-old. He’s a genius of an inventor and spouts facts like a walking encyclopedia, although one might say he is not very well-adjusted socially. I must say I was a little taken aback by his coarse language at certain points in the story. Nevertheless, I found him quite endearing, perhaps partly because I felt sorry for him, and partly because in some ways he reminded me of myself.
I feel like I learned so much while I was reading this book, which is always an element of appeal for me. I like being able to pause and say, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” This and, “Wow, I wish I would have thought of that!” were both expressions I found myself repeating often as I read Oskar’s rambling narrative. The pages are filled with his ideas for new inventions and things he has learned about everything from elephants to the Empire State Building.
This is definitely a sad story, and it left me feeling just as sorry for Oskar at the ending, which doesn’t seem to leave him with much hope (some, perhaps, but not much). But still, it was a profound story and it gave me much to think about. It reminded me that hiding a painful secret makes it all the more painful. I’ve had secrets of my own that became, in Oskar’s words, “a hole in the middle of me that every happy thing fell into.” (I love that line; how sad and how true.) It also reminded me how important it is to tell the people I love how much I love them, even if it may seem unnecessary. “It’s always necessary,” Oskar’s grandmother wisely states.
I would also call this a quirky book because of the way the author plays with punctuation and spacing and uses photos along with the text to emphasize what he’s trying to say. It was refreshingly different from any other book I’ve read. I wouldn’t go as far as that library patron and say that everyone should read it, but if you don’t mind some serious subject matter–and by serious, I mean tragic–and you enjoy novels written from the perspective of an intelligent youngster, then by all means, go for it.