Justification for Teaching

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close deploys several elements of postmodern literature to tell a story about coming to terms with (or, at least, attempting to come to terms with) devastating grief, existential dread, and alienation. Its parallel narrative shows students that the novel is a very flexible genre, as it makes use of letters and pictures and other graphical elements.

The book is also a good example of post-9/11 literature; the protagonist's father dies in the September 11th attacks, and the protagonist attempts to process his grief and fear in the aftermath.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the story of Oskar, a young boy whose father died in the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. While dealing with the emotional trauma of losing a loved one, Oskar travels New York in search for a lock that can be opened with the key his deceased father left behind.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Symbolism
  • Imagery
  • Parallel narrative
  • Magical realism
  • Graphical elements (pictures, color, etc.)

Themes and Motifs

  • Death — This key feature of the novel is apparent in both the physical death of Oskar’s father as well as Oskar’s constant anxiety and stress caused by his father’s death. Oskar attempts to comprehend death, and this becomes apparent in his search for understanding.
  • Life and existence — As a young boy, even before the death of his father, Oskar questions and overthinks existence. After the death of his father, Oskar becomes even more existentially obsessed with the meaning of life.
  • Family — The central figure of the novel’s family is the deceased father, who connects everyone, yet also causes them to develop a detachment from one another. The novel shows both family importance and family struggles, as Oskar learns to cope with those who have passed and love those who remain.
  • Communication — An underlying theme is communication of all types: from letter writing from relatives to talking with people in New York. The novel also displays miscommunication and its negative effects on dealing with loss.

Related Works

Themes of Death


Themes of Life and existence


Themes of Family


Themes of Communication

Key Facts

  • Length: 368 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 940
  • Publication Date: 2005
  • Recommended Grade Band: 8 – 12


  • New York Times Bestseller (Fiction, 2005)
  • New York Public Library’s “Books to Remember” list
  • ALA Outstanding Books for the College Bound (Literature & Language Arts, 2009)
  • International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist (2007)


A film version of the novel was released in 2011 and was nominated for many awards, including two Oscars.

The differences between the novel and the movie can be found here.

Your students will love:

  • Oskar's determination
  • Following Oskar through New York

Students may have problems with:

  • Upsetting imagery
  • Odd relationships between characters
  • Intertwined narratives that can become confusing
  • The narrator, who can seem a little too precocious and precious

Available from Prestwick House:

Purchase Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for your classroom here.

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close