Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the greatest things about this children’s/YA story is that it is not really a children’s story at all. It is about children who must think and act like adults in many situations, and it is about adults who often think and act like children, but this story is a human story. And as the narrator puts it, humans are haunting.

Set in the cold of 1939 Germany, WWII is well underway and Hitler has a firm grip on everyone and everything surrounding the main character, 10-year old Liesel and her life as a foster child in a struggling home outside of Munich. Liesel begins her illicit collection of books by taking the copy of The Grave Digger’s Handbook that falls in the snow at her little brother’s funeral and although she cannot read, Liesel sees this book as a treasured reminder of her brother and of that moment in her life and her last days with her mother. Liesel experiences her life surviving the war, learns to read and write with her “Papa’s” help, tries to understand the suffering and injustices she sees everywhere around her. When Liesel is 14, she is given a blank book by the mayor’s wife who has over the years provided Liesel with many books from her personal home library. Liesel decides to write her own life story, titled The Book Thief. When her village is bombed, everyone around her dies and in the chaos, she drops her book. Death picks it up and keeps it until the day comes to collect her soul at the end of her life and then returns the book.

The reader is guided through the story of Liesel’s life, and the lives of others around her, by Death. This unique perspective on human life, shared by one who collects the souls at the end but does not “live” gives this story an objective and almost detached emotion. It is this point of view that makes the literary value of this novel so incredible. Named a Printz Honor Book in 2007, The Book Thief incorporates many interesting literary devices that make it a worthy recipient. The choice of narrator is an obviously intriguing one. The use of bold text to clarify meaning or emphasize certain events or points by the narrator is also an unusual technique. The books gathered by Liesel throughout her young life, some gifts (The Standover Man and The Word Shaker, which are both written by Liesel’s step-father Max on painted-over pages of Adolph Hitler’s Book, Mein Kampf), some stolen (The Grave Digger’s Handbook and The Shoulder Shrug) and Liesel’s own book are all symbols of defiance and survival, of fascination and optimism for the human spirit. Death carries around Liesel’s book and reads it repeatedly before the time comes to collect her soul and return her book, some ways becoming a book thief as well.

The Michael L. Printz Award recognizes teen and YA novels on their literary excellence and this book displays it in many ways. The themes (coming of age, war, tolerance, bravery, family, survival, meaning of life and death) are explored with the kind of writing that makes a reader want to start over on page 1 as soon as you finish the end of page 576.

Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Lexile Measure: 730L (What’s this?)
Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; Reprint edition (September 11, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375842209
ISBN-13: 978-0375842207

Price: $6.00

Literary awards:  National Jewish Book Award, Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Children’s Literature (2007), Buxtehuder Bulle (2008), Prijs van de Kinder- en Jeugdjury Vlaanderen (2009), Printz Honor (2007), Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2007), The Quill Award Nominee for Young Adult/Teen (2006), Zilveren Zoen (2008), Teen Read Award Nominee for Best All-Time-Fave (2010), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis for Preis der Jugendjury (2009), ASSOCIATION OF JEWISH LIBRARIES NEW AND NOTABLE BOOK for Teen Book Award (2006), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2010), Kathleen Mitchell Award, Margaret A. Edwards Award (2014)

Annotation:

The life of a young girl living in Hitler’s Germany during WWII is retold by Death as he watches her steal books and eventually write on of her own telling her own life story. A Haunting look at humanity and hope through the eyes of the one being that must be present for all of it, good or bad.

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