Elsa's grandmother is different. She's highly intelligent, politically incorrect, incredibly irascible, and occasionally violent. (She puts me very much in mind of Diana Trent from the Brit com Waiting for God.) Although Elsa is aware of Granny's rule-breaking eccentricities, they don't bother her at all. To the contrary, Elsa considers her granny a cinnamon-bun-and-beer-devouring, slightly dysfunctional superhero whose superpowers include "lifesaving and driving people nuts." Granny's "the sort of person you brought with you when you went to war," and Elsa's life seems to be one big conflict.
As long as Elsa's been alive, Granny's been her champion, her confidant, and her constant and closest companion. She helps Elsa navigate her way through life's rough waters and "just wants Elsa to know she’s on Elsa’s side, no matter what." Elsa doesn't fit in with her peers, or even with most adults, but she and Granny have a bond that can't be broken. They share a special language and an imaginary secret kingdom in the Land-of-Almost-Awake, a place granny came up with to help Elsa get through her parents' divorce. Then one day, Granny dies, and that's when the real adventure begins, an adventure Granny sadly promises will have a dragon at the end.
At times the writing seems as if the author is trying too hard to be funny, but not always, and the story itself is perfectly charming. Elsa is a heroine in the making and a character worth meeting. Symbolism plays a large role in the narrative as the line between fairy tales and reality is irrevocably blurred, and it's up to Elsa to complete Granny's final mission for her by discovering the truth behind the tale.
While tackling heady themes of abandonment, illness, loss, war, and PTSD, the novel teaches us that sometimes the biggest fairy tale is believing in the perfection of the people we love most, and the best reality exists in knowing everything about them and loving them as they are.