I usually start my book reviews by writing a story overview to give you a glimpse of what the book is about. And I could do that for this book too …
This is the story novel of a 9-year-old girl named Liesel Meminger who lives with her adoptive parents in World War II Germany in the working-class town of Molching. Given up by her mother to protect her safety, Liesel loses her younger brother on the train ride to Molching. (At his burial, she steals her first book, The Grave Diggers Handbook.) As she grows up on Himmel Street, we get to know Liesel and her accordion-playing adoptive father Hans Hubermann; her stern (but secretly loving) adoptive mother Rosa; her best friend Rudy; the depressed but kind Mayor’s Wife (who passively encourages and abets Liesel’s continuing book theft); and the sad but strong Jewish refugee Max (who is hidden in the Hubermann’s basement).
Set against the backdrop of World War II, we experience the war from Liesel’s point of view—from forced participation in the Hitler Youth, to the stress of sheltering a Jew in your basement, to the importance of seeming to support the Nazis and Hitler when you’re doing everything you can to subvert their atrocities while not being noticed.
…but I don’t really want to do that. Why? Because giving a summary of this book doesn’t convey to you what makes this book so incredibly powerful, amazing, gripping and poetic. It makes the book seem somewhat ordinary when it is anything but. For this is an extraordinary book. What makes it so extraordinary? The narrator. Our narrator, you see, is Death. (Yes … Death. Like the Grim Reaper.) And, as you might expect, Death doesn’t come at a story in the same way as you or I.
I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.
Death is tired. Death needs a distraction. A vacation. Which is why he notices colors. To Death, Rudy isn’t just a boy. He is the lemon-haired boy. Hans Hubermann isn’t just a man. He is the silver-eyed man (whose eyes begin to rust at his death). But Death notices Liesel … and something about her catches his notice. As Death says:
It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors—an expert at being left behind.
It’s just a small story really, about, among other things:
Some fanatical Germans
A Jewish fist fighter
And quite a lot of thievery
I saw the book thief three times.
From the very first page until the very last, I was completely enchanted by this book. I loved Death’s narration … his bolded, centered asides, his sly sense of humor, his use of imagery and colors, his way of listing the events in the upcoming chapters, his advice for meeting him, the gentle way he holds a soul in his arms.
For me, Zusak’s choice of narrator and the way he tells the story elevates this book from “another World War II novel” to a shimmering, dazzling prism of light that reflects our humanness back to us. If you can’t tell already, I loved this book. Loved it. When you read a lot of books, you’re always hoping for one that will surprise you, tell you a story in a unique way, or open your eyes to what a writer can do with words. For me, The Book Thief was one of those books.
Upon starting it, I immediately regretted that I hadn’t read it sooner. What if Death had come for me before I got to read it? Then it became a book that I didn’t want to end. Although it is 576 pages, I found something to love and linger over on each page. And although I’m not a person who likes to reread books, I know I will revisit this one again. So, if you haven’t read it yet, don’t delay. It is a wondrous book—brimming with love and dazzling in its inventiveness and words. Perfection.
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A Brief Aside: For some reason, this book is always classified as a Young Adult novel, which I feel might turn off some readers. Do not let this label fool you into thinking there is anything simplistic about this book. If this is YA book, then it is the pinnacle of the genre. In my mind, I don’t see it needing to be labeled as such, and I fear that such a label might keep some readers away from it. Don’t make that mistake!
The Whys and Wheres: I bought this book for my Kindle because I needed a Z Author for my A to Z Challenge, and I’d seen other book bloggers raving about how much they loved this book. To think that I might have passed it by or somehow not read it if I hadn’t done a silly reading challenge gives me the shivers.