Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is usually shelved in the young adult section at the bookstore and in the library. In fact, I know of many schools that teach it in the 8th or 9th grade. However, PLEASE do not let that keep you from reading this wonderful novel. For in The Book Thief, you won’t find a wizard, vampire, or bow and arrow in sight; what you will find is Death as the narrator and one of the most beautifully written (and heartbreaking) books of the modern time. It is literature….and it is literature at its very best.
Where do I begin with how much I loved this book? Let’s start with Death, the character who takes on this extraordinary journey, telling us the story of Liesel, a girl growing up in Germany during the Holocaust. At a young age, Liesel saw her brother die, just as the both of them were on their way to a foster home. At the cemetery, Liesel picked up her first book…one that fell out of a gravedigger’s pocket. After a tough beginning, she grew to love her new parents, especially Papa. When a Jewish man shows up at the door, Mama and Papa take him in to hide in the basement. Liesel and Max develop a friendship that’s based on their love of words. Max even paints over his copy of Mein Kampf (yes, a Jewish man had the book but used it for a completely different purpose), turning an absolutely hated book into something completely different.
Throughout the story, Death shows us all of Liesel’s relationships during one of the most tragic times in history. Zusak does this in the most imaginative way; Death, knowing everything that is going to happen, often tells us the ending first in the most shocking matter-of-fact way. Only then does he go back to fill in the blanks of what happened. Of course, most of us hate when someone tells us the ending before we even read the story, but I promise you, in Zusak’s magical hands, it works beautifully.
Between the lyrical language and heartbreaking content, Zusak has written one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It will stay with me for a long time.