Lit Pick #5: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Amy Steward, Editor-in-Chief

There’s a reason Jonathan Safran Foer is an award-winning writer. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an incredible, heart-wrenching, hilarious, delightful, frustrating, fantastic read.

This novel follows a 9-year-old, Oskar Schell, but it’s not a children’s book. Instead, it takes mature and adult topics through Oskar’s eyes. A year after his father dies in the September 11 attacks, Oskar discovers a key his father hid and, just like the scavenger hunts the two did when his father was alive, Oskar journeys all over New York City to try and find the key’s matching lock. Intertwined in this is the story of Oskar’s grandfather — who left the family forty years prior — and his grandmother who had to pick up the pieces.

I’ll be honest: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. See the sidebar for some of my favorite quotes.

In fact, I wound up researching Jonathan Safran Foer and reading another one of his books, Everything is Illuminated, because of how much I liked this one. Oskar’s one of those kids who is simultaneously advanced and naive for his age, and I loved his narration from page one. He’s such an endearing character who will make you laugh and cry in the same chapter. 

And I wasn’t expecting to be nearly as invested in the story of his grandparents as I was! Tying his grandparents rebuilding their lives after World War II into Oskar and his mom rebuilding their lives after 9/11 made for interesting parallel stories.

The subjects Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close deals with are some of the hardest to write about. Foer shows 9/11 through the eyes of a New Yorker, which many authors attempted to do in the years following the tragedy, but by doing it through the eyes of a brilliant yet depressed child he gives it a whole new depth of understanding.

However, a word of warning: this book doesn’t give closure. Or, at least, the type readers are used to. After I finished reading I remember being so frustrated — “that’s it?” I literally said to the pages. It took a few days of reflection and annoyance to realize that that’s the point. Everything tied up beautifully after all; it just wasn’t what I thought was going to happen.

In all, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a quick read not because it’s short but because it’s impossible to put down. Follow lovable Oskar by checking it out from the school library or the public library (they both have copies), buy it here at the Boerne Bookshop, or find it here on Amazon.

Not your genre? Here’s what else I’m reading (and recommending):

Fantasy / Sci-Fi – Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Mystery – One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

Adventure/Suspense – Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche

Realistic Fiction – Winterfolk by Janel Kolby

Romance – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Historical Fiction – Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Nonfiction – The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean