She tells Oskar that it takes a life to learn how to live. She would do things differently if she could. 

Thomas tells Grandma he wants to go home, the place with the most rules. They hold each other in bed that night.

The next day, Thomas leaves with his suitcase. Grandma lets all the animals loose. None of them return.

Summary: Chapter 9

Oskar shares an interview with a survivor from the bombing of Hiroshima, a woman named Tomoyasu, with his class. Tomoyasu describes her daughter dying in her arms in graphic detail. The teacher tries to move discussion along, but Oskar interjects with scientific facts about atomic explosions. Jimmy asks why Oskar is weird, and the teacher sends Jimmy to the principal's office. 

Later that week, Jimmy corners Oskar and mocks him. Jimmy talks about how hot Emma Watson is, but Oskar won’t comment because he doesn't know her. He storms away to read Stephen Hawking. That night, Oskar can’t sleep. He imagines training seeing eye dogs to sniff bombs so blind people could help everyone be safer.

Saturday, Oskar meets with Mr. Black so they can search for the lock. Mr. Black urges Oskar to take the subway instead of walking to the Bronx. Oskar is anxious the entire ride, but they get there otherwise unscathed. The woman who answers Agnes Black’s door only speaks Spanish. Mr. Black knows Spanish and learns that Agnes had been a waitress at the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center. She died on 9/11. Oskar wonders if she met his dad because Oskar’s dad had been in that restaurant for a meeting.

Oskar finds the school week boring unless he thinks about the key. He feels like it opens everything. The keys around his neck rest over his heart. He’s put a band aid over that part of his skin because the metal gets cold.

Oskar has an appointment with his psychiatrist, Dr. Fein, which he resents because he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with being upset that his dad died. When Dr. Fein asks why Oskar thinks he’s there, Oskar insists it’s because his mom has a hard time with Oskar finding his life impossible. Dr. Fein encourages Oskar to explain his emotional state in his own words. Oskar says he’s emotional all the time and that the way he is inside doesn’t match how he is outside. Dr. Fein asks if he might be starting puberty. Dr. Fein introduces a word association game during which Oskar associates “emergency” with “dad,” explaining that his dad is both the source of and the solution to the emergency. 

At the end of the session, Oskar promises he’ll be good and hide his feelings because his feelings make everyone’s life worse.  Dr. Fein asks Oskar if any good can come from his dad’s death, and Oskar wants to scream but instead shrugs his shoulders.

After Oskar’s session, his mom talks with Dr. Fein. Oskar puts his ear to the door so he can hear snippets of conversation. Dr. Fein suggests institutionalizing Oskar, which infuriates Oskar’s mom.

Oskar listens to one of his dad’s last messages. His dad promises a helicopter is coming to rescue people in the building. Oskar asks himself why he didn’t pick up and why dad didn’t say, “I love you.” He looks forward to Saturday, when he can search for the lock and be happy.

Analysis: Chapters 8 & 9

Thomas’s obsessive photographing of the apartment in chapter 8 introduces the relationship between photography and value in the novel. When Grandma notes that Thomas photographs the house obsessively and doesn’t photograph her, she implies Thomas cares less about her than he does about the apartment. Later in the chapter, Grandma notes that she’s never had a photograph of herself that she likes, implying that she doesn’t feel comfortable with herself as depicted by others. In light of the way we don’t know Grandma’s real name, the lack of photographs adds to the ways in which others don’t treat Grandma as an individual throughout the novel. In both these instances, photographs are used to bestow value on the photograph’s subject and also to reveal the attitude of the photographer toward that subject of the photograph. This complex relationship to photographic images in Thomas and Grandma’s lives also appears in Oskar’s life in the way he doggedly photographs interesting things on his journey and also pursues images on the internet. The photos Oskar takes throughout his journey depict the items that Oskar finds most important in each encounter. That Oskar photographs objects and animals he encounters, not people, suggests Oskar’s continued ambivalence about humans.

Chapter 8 explores Grandma’s need to reject the past in order to pursue the future. Most simply, although Grandma begins her letter with her childhood in Dresden, as the letter continues, she mentions the past less and less. Her digressions into her past are much shorter than Thomas’s, keeping her letter more or less chronological. In fact, Grandma’s past mainly intrudes into Chapter 8 only when she describes her argument with Thomas, suggesting that he pulls her mind back to Dresden. Grandma’s blank memoir symbolizes her desire to forget the past and focus on the present, as she creates a literal blank slate upon which to make new memories. Grandma’s encounter with the Halloween ghost also demonstrates her complex relationship with the past. Ghosts, of course, relate to the dead and memories, and Grandma pays the child to leave her be because she doesn’t want to remember her past. However, Grandma knows that the ghost is a child, suggesting that she also wants the idea of children to go away. She thinks about the ghost child as she decides it’s her obligation to have children because having a child becomes her way to improve the next generation, honoring the loss of her past by building a future.

Sexuality in the novel is used to represent and meditate on human connection. The juxtaposition between Anna kissing Grandma and the sex Grandma has with Thomas furthers the idea that intimacy requires trust and vulnerability. Grandma and Thomas’s sex life is unfulfilling and impersonal because they do not face each other and use the barrier of a “nothing” place to keep the physical connection from becoming too real. Also, Thomas’s unwillingness to cry in front of Grandma at the airport emphasizes the lack of real trust between them. However, Anna kissing Grandma, especially when juxtaposed with sex, may seem incestuous, but, in the context of Oskar’s earlier assertion that kissing makes people human, it actually represents the true emotional connection Grandma has with her sister. Anna and Grandma share all their secrets with each other, forging deep emotional intimacy. By kissing Grandma, Anna seals their bond as intimate and deeply human, a true connection. Conversely, Oskar finds Jimmy’s sexual commentary about Emma Watson alienating and distressing in part because Jimmy encourages Oskar to have sexual feelings about someone he doesn’t know, a false connection. Jimmy’s sexual connection to a stranger upsets Oskar as it highlights the distance between people and the lack of real connection.

Oskar uses the Hiroshima interview to follow his dad’s model of using science to understand the world, while simultaneously ignoring his dad’s lessons about exploration and wonder. Although Tomoyasu’s interview is graphic and emotionally heart wrenching, Oskar reacts instead to the scientific workings of the bomb, shutting out the entire human aspect. Oskar’s focus on science evokes the stamp of Oppenheimer, the inventor of the atomic bomb, who Oskar earlier proclaimed wasn’t great because he wasn’t good. In ignoring the human cost in favor of the scientific marvel, Oskar has now aligned himself with the same logic that would cause someone to call Oppenheimer great. On a smaller scale, Oskar retreats into reading Stephen Hawking when Jimmy’s questions about sexuality overwhelm and confuse him, comically ignoring people in favor of the quantifiable world of math and physics. However, not only does science not answer the questions his interactions with Jimmy raise, but the answers he finds through science don’t actually seem to line up with his dad’s lessons about the world. In his anecdote about the Sahara Desert, Oskar’s dad talks about changing human history by moving a grain of sand, tying one’s actions to all of humanity—something a scientist would find difficult to prove. 

In Oskar’s conversation with Dr. Fein, Oskar lays bare his belief that his ugly true feelings only hurt the people he loves. The revelation that Oskar believes that he must keep his feelings inside sheds new light on his belief that beautiful things aren’t true. As we see in Oskar’s argument with his mom in Chapter 7, he knows he can weaponize his emotions to hurt his mom. After his outburst in Chapter 7, Oskar gives himself bruises both to punish himself and to show that he’ll keep his grief on the inside, just as a bruise is a sign of burst minor blood vessels bleeding inside one’s body. Oskar echoes this sentiment at the end of his session with Dr. Fein when he equates hiding his feelings with being good. Oskar has not yet understood the fact that his feelings can hurt others, but that doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to have them.