Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Length: 552 p.
Synopsis: The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a child in World War II-era Germany, who, after being abandoned by her mother to a foster family, finally finds her place in her disintegrating world thanks to her loving Papa; her best friend/partner in crime/next door neighbor/would-be boyfriend, Rudy Steiner; a Jew named Max who hides in her family’s basement; and most importantly, her words. The most interesting thing about this book, and the thing that makes it so unforgettable, is the fact that it is narrated by Death. By the end of the novel, Death becomes almost an object of pity because he has come to sympathize so with the humans who are at his mercy because of the destruction of that madman, Hitler, and the war.
My Thoughts: This is a book that really stuck with me. In fact, when I finally finished it late one night this past week, I commented to my husband, Steady Eddie, that I wished I had not finished it when I did because it stayed on my mind so much that I could not go to sleep for a while. I am no stranger to World War II and Holocaust fiction, but something about this book made it extremely poignant and compelling. Zusak does excellent job of creating characters that are realistic, but in the end, almost every one of them has become beloved by the reader. That is no small feat, especially when a character like Rosa, Liesel’s foster mother, is considered. She rails against Liesel, curses her (and anyone else within hearing distance) in both English and German, and even beats her with a wooden spoon. In the end, though, this is what Death has to say about her:
Make no mistake, the woman had a heart. She had a bigger one than people would think. There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving [. . .] She was a Jew feeder without a question in the world on a man’s first night in Molching. And she was an arm reacher, deep into a mattress, to deliver a sketchbook to a teenage girl. (532)
The story itself is fairly complex, but the humanity of it reaches deep. This is a coming-of-age novel in which the protagonist comes of age at one of the worst times and in one of the worst places in history. It’s a story about the amazing power of words. Something about Zusak’s style reminds of E.L. Konigsburg’s. While I would not recommend this novel to just any teen (or adult, for that matter) due to the violence, profanity, and serious themes contained therein, I do think it’s a worthwhile read. Zusak has written a unique book in The Book Thief, one deserving of the 2007 Printz Honor it received.