The Book Thief

The Book Thief

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A Young Person’s Review

by Mariella Hunt

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Author: Markus Zusak
ISBN: 978-0-375-84220-7
Publisher: Knopf
Date of Publication: 14 March 2006

These days it's difficult to find Young Adult (YA) literature that even mentions the living arrangements of most people – that is, in families. Popular YA novels often mention parents only in passing and in many, main characters don’t actually have parents—they’re orphaned, or runaways.

This is a marketing mistake, because today's youth is looking for books where the family matters. In this category, The Book Thief is a great choice.

Hailed as a modern-day classic, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a force to be reckoned with. Set in Nazi Germany, it walks us down a place called Himmel ( “Heaven” ) Street. Death is a person for 500 pages, who relates the story of a girl named Liesel.

Set in Nazi Germany, it walks us down a place called Himmel ( “Heaven” ) Street. Death is a person for 500 pages, who relates the story of a girl named Liesel.

Though it lacks a “proper” plot, the characters steal your heart at once. Liesel's adopted Mama and Papa have endearing personalities. Hans Hubermann is a patient man who teaches Liesel to read her first book—one she stole called The Gravedigger’s Handbook. His wife Rosa has the mouth of a sailor and thick enough skin to overcome the hard times.

Rosa rocked back and forth, ever so gently. “Liesel,” she whispered, “come here.” She held the girl from behind, tightening her grip. She sang a song, but it was so quiet that Liesel could not make it out. The notes were born on her breath and they died at her lips. (Page 374)

All of the characters in this book are memorable.  We have a shopkeeper who demands her customers say “heil, Hitler” when they enter. Liesel’s neighbor is a troublemaker named Rudy who has skill in stealing food. Then there’s the character of Death, our surprisingly human storyteller.

Injustice and heartbreak haunt these characters—such as the neighbor whose son died in battle, and the Jews marched through town to concentration camps. Even as hope appears to vanish, Death sees kind gestures done in secret. Hope is restored in the act of a brave soul feeding emaciated Jews.

As her eyes scanned the paper, Liesel could see through the punched letter holes to the wooden table. Words like compulsory and duty were beaten into the page. Saliva was triggered. It was the urge to vomit. (Page 416)

In trying times, evil can be easier to see than good. Death admits he’s scared of us—then notes the small, beautiful things people do to bring light to the darkest places.

History is handled masterfully in this novel, which was also adapted into a film. It’s gathered a strong fan base for a reason: The Book Thief deserves every bit of this praise. It will make you shed a tear, and smile because hope isn’t lost. Beautiful writing and vivid characters make it a story you won’t forget.

In trying times, evil can be easier to see than good. Death admits he’s scared of us—then notes the small, beautiful things people do to bring light to the darkest places.

 

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