I’m ridiculously late to the game on this one. I’ve seen this book’s cover plastered everywhere for years and heard people (including my favorite English teachers) talk about it, but I never took the time to read it until it was required reading for my Young Adult Lit class.
The book has won the Printz award and has topped The New York Times best-seller list for seven years.
I finished it a few weeks ago, but I haven’t been able to put the experience into words. All I can say is that it has earned a permanent spot on My Favorite Books list. There aren’t even the right words, only feelings.
Let me first say that, in my years of schooling, I have read MANY books about the Holocaust. MANY. I understand why, and I find the subject fascinating, but, at the same time, it can get tiresome. When I heard this book was about Germany in WWII, I was ready to be bored. What more could be said about the subject? What could be different? I’ve never read a story from the German perspective on WWII, and it’s incredibly humanizing.
Liesel Meminger, the main character, is not Jewish. She is an orphan who has lost her mother and brother and is shipped off to live in a foster home. I feared the worst for Liesel, as many foster home stories become horrific, but her new family is anything but. She lives outside Munich at the beginning of Hitler’s reign. Her new home on Hummel Street (German for “heaven”) and everyone she knows is changed by the Nazi regime.
Liesel copes with growing up and everything changing through the power of words. She begins to take books when she can, clinging to them as they serve for milestones in her life. Her foster father teaches her to read, and she shares this gift with her community during bombing raids as well as a Jewish man her family hides in their basement.
There is so much to this story, but I don’t want to give everything away. Yes, it is unique in that it is told from the Germany perspective, but the most interesting aspect of the novel is that Death is the omniscient narrator. Yeah, the old grim reaper, though he claims he doesn’t carry a scythe or anything foolish like that. Death is intrigued by Liesel and follows her throughout her life as he carries out his duties.
The way Zusak crafts this story is so beautiful. There are so many phrases in the book that must be read and enjoyed over and over again like a savory food. His stylistic and artistic choices are so different from anything I’ve ever read. You know the ending from the very beginning, and the beginning is divided into several prologues that are unexpected in a young adult novel because of their sophistication.
This novel is a great example of how young adult literature is not only for young adults. The profoundness of the story is something all ages can appreciate. You’ll fall in love with each character. I especially loved Liesel who is an incredible character because of her innocence and her love for words. Obviously, as a fellow bookworm, I appreciate this. She is also, like me, extremely close to her father and credits him for teaching her important tools for life.
Ultimately, I walked away from the book with this deep love for the story Zusak crafted. As a reader, you’ll find a kindred spirit in Liesel. Furthermore, Zusak’s words will stir a familiarity within you that is rare in other stories. There will be images from the novel both beautiful and horrifying that will be burned into your mind.
Like my last post, The Book Thief was featured on Buzzfeed’s “14 Books to Read Before They Hit the Big Screen” http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/books-to-read-before-they-hit-the-big-screen. It will be interesting to see how they translate Death’s narration onto film. It’s set to release in January 2014 starring Sophie Nélisse and Geoffrey Rush.
Finally, I’m most excited about this book because I can’t wait to teach it in the classroom. I would love to discuss it with my students and study it academically because I believe it is a true piece of literature that will be relevant long after its popularity. I would love to have feedback if anyone has taught this novel in the classroom or had a book discussion.
- Grimes & Rowe Read a Book: The Book Thief (storycarnivores.com)
- A Book That Steals Your Heart (throughthewardrobedoor.wordpress.com)