Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I picked this book up after having seen the movie, which I know is against my cardinal rule, but I didn't know the movie was based on a book until my friend told me as we were taking our seats in the theater. I should have known - most movies are based on books. If you haven't seen the movie, I would recommend it. Be forewarned, however, it is not a "feel good" movie. I left the theater feeling very heavy and it certainly brought back my own memories of September 11th. It did end on a hopeful note, but it is heavy film. The movie follows the book fairly closely though, and in my opinion, it deserved all of the praise it got from the critics.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tells the story of Oskar Schell. Oskar is a very unique young man, and although not officially diagnosed, he is clearly on the Autism spectrum. Oskar's father, Thomas, is killed in the Twin Towers on September 11th. After his death, Oskar accidentally breaks a blue vase he finds in his father's closet, and discovers a small envelope with "Black" written on the front and containing a key. Oskar becomes convinced that this key is another mystery his father has left for him to solve and he sets out to find the lock for his key. His journey brings him into contact with all sorts of people from every walk of life. I won't reveal what Oskar ultimately discovers about the key, but it should be a surprise to anyone who has not seen the movie before reading the book.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing style took some getting used to as it switches between characters, each of which have their own unique voices. Once I got used to it, I hardly noticed it because I was so engrossed by the characters. The characters in this book are fantastic - they are extremely interesting and entertaining. Anyone from New York or familiar with New York City will appreciate these characters' uniqueness and eccentricity. I found myself laughing and tearing up throughout the entire book. The book also hits on some fairly heavy themes - loss and grief - but it also spoke to how connected we really are.

All of the characters in the book are dealing with loss in some way - from death, to abandonment, to divorce. It was fascinating to see how each of the characters handled their grief. Some ran away from it, some went searching for things they would never find, others lashed out, while some found small ways to honor and remember who they lost. Each person Oskar met was in a different place with their grief and each played a role in helping Oskar deal with his.  Grief is such an interesting emotion because it really is a process, and each person really handles it differently. But this story was so much more than just that.

It also spoke to how connected we really are and how each of our lives intersects in ways that we can't even imagine. One little action from a person can change and alter the course of someone else's life, often without us really realizing. I loved how all the characters were brought together because of the key and how their stories wove together. Each of them is affected by this connection. It is amazing to think that we have that power - the power to affect the lives of others - and how awesome and terrifying that power is.


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