This is it, people. This is the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower and every other coming-of-age novel about a vaguely autistic boy is trying to be. This is the book you want to read next. I’m telling you.
Nine-year-old Oskar discovers a key in an envelope in a vase in his dead daddy’s closet. All he has to go on is the word ‘Black’ written on the envelope, and so begins one of the darlingest quests to ever make page.
Oskar is convinced that finding the lock for this key will help bring him closer to his dead daddy. Unfortunately, there are some 162 million locks in all of New York, with a multitude of new locks being born every minute. So he enlists the help of several unlikely friends (nutty seniors, lonely divorcees, etc) in tracking down every last person in New York with the last name ‘Black,’ beginning with the A’s. In my mind this makes me nervous because, dude, who lets their nine-year-old wander around New York? But Oskar is *spoiler* fine, and no one tries to lure him into their van with tiny, palm-sized deers (aside: I would definitely get into a stranger’s windowless van for one snorfle with that deer). H’anyvays, he has many hilarious adventures and so on. But not, like, Sedaris-hilarious. This is that touching-funny, like when little kids say totally profound things by accident. The kind of funny that makes your heart hurt, a little.
Because this is sneakily dark stuff, you know? All hidden under the sweetness and fun and questing. Interspersed in Oskar’s story are letters from his silent-and-absent grandfather to his dead daddy and letters to him from his compensatingly-over-loving grandmother. Quirky, sad letters that flesh out the story in a way no straight narrative ever could. And then there is Oskar’s Stuff That Happened to Me scrapbook, and his obsessive letter-writing-to-famous-people, and the rather haunting messages left on the answering machine by Oskar’s dead daddy before the tall, rather famous building he was in went down in a blaze of terror, and the equally disturbing fact that Oskar is the only one to have heard these messages and bears their burden alone.
But under the layer of silt (which is, in turn, under a layer of rainbows), there is a quiet hope, and I haven’t loved a narrator as much as Oskar since Black Swan Green (which, dude, read). I was so irrationally happy by the end, deep down in the part of my soul where I keep old teddy bears, that I’m pretty sure I could hug a Nazi.