RTW: Book of the Month for November, 2012

On the last Road Trip Wednesday of each month, the YA Highway team asks what our favorite book was for that month. This month I have been in the throes of NaNoWriMo. As I explained last week, committing to NaNo has necessitated a temporary rearrangement of priorities. This means my reading schedule has suffered greatly. In fact, I only read one book in November. But this book doesn’t get my Book of the Month vote by default. This truly is an excellent book, and well deserving of the accolade. And that book is…

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. I don’t often do this, but here’s a summary of the premise from the “Reader’s Guide” at the end of the book. I think it sums up the story better than I can at the moment:

Liesel Meminger is only nine years old when she is taken to live with the Hubermanns, a foster family, on Himmel Street in Molching, Germany, in the late 1930s. She arrives with few possessions, but among them is The Grave Digger’s Handbook, a book she stole from her brother’s burial place. During the years that Liesel lives with the Hubermanns, Hitler becomes more powerful, life on Himmel Street becomes more fearful, and Liesel becomes a full-fledged book thief. She rescues books from Nazi book-burnings and steals from the library of the mayor. Liesel is illiterate when she steals her first book, but Hans Hubermann uses her prized books to teach her to read. This is a story of courage, friendship, love, survival, death, and grief. This is Liesel’s life on Himmel Street, told from Death’s point of view.

Yes, Death is the narrator of the story, which is one of the things that initially grabbed my attention. Death essentially follows Liesel, watching her try to make sense of a world that is falling apart around her. Zusak’s narrative is compelling. His use of word play and word pictures is inspiring, and never seems forced or silly. As I grapple with writing a story about an alien teenage girl told from her point of view, this was the perfect book for me to read for inspiration. Death’s English vocabulary is far more extensive than my alien girl’s, but the way he uses words, and the creativity employed stretched my imagination, and encouraged me to take some risks.

But it’s not just the prose that makes this book such a gem; the characters have depth, and the dialog feels genuine. There’s pain and suffering, as well as moments of joy, and you feel them with Liesel. The historical setting of Nazi Germany under Hitler’s rising power comes alive, too. In the interview with Zusak at the end of the book, he says that he wanted to show the other side of Nazi Germany–that not all Germans flew the Nazi flag, or loved Hitler Youth, and some were even willing to risk their lives to hide Jews. This comes across well. We see both the loyal followers, and the doubters. Zusak did a commendable job of putting a human face to the war.

This book gets a hearty approval from me. There’s no sex, but there is profanity (mainly s-words), and Third Commandment violations that would make me give it a PG-15 rating. Even aside from that, the subject matter is, I think, best suited for the older teen. That’s my opinion. I would definitely say this is a book you ought to read at some point in your life. As a writer, it will broaden your horizons creatively. As a reader, it will at least make you think; I certainly believe it will be an enriching experience for you.

Before signing off, I want to thank those of you who voted for this book on my “what book shall I buy next?” poll back in July. I bought it on your recommendation, and you were right about how great this book is. Thank you!

Have you read THE BOOK THIEF and care to share your thoughts? What was your favorite book this month? If you want to take part in YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday, see the YA Highway blog for details.

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20 Responses to RTW: Book of the Month for November, 2012

  1. Interesting narrator. :) I don’t think historical fiction-y type books are my thing but I’m willing to give this one a try. It’s definitely not the story I thought it was. I never read the blurb so when I saw the title I think I always assumed some sort of fantasy. :)

    • Zusak makes Death quite a sympathetic character–almost in the way Terry Pratchett does, only not nearly as humorously. And he doesn’t beat you over the head with the history. If you know anything about Nazi Germany, you know enough to understand the environment. Zusak says that research is not his strong suit, so there’s enough to paint a picture, but you’re not going to get detailed descriptions of uniforms and fighter planes, or anything like that.

      It really is worth your time to read, Robin, even though it isn’t what you’d normally read, if just for the way it’s written. As a writer, I think you’d appreciate his use of language.

  2. I loved this book! I had my husband read it just recently but he didn’t care for it much- I think it was a little too weird for him and he didn’t like the format.

    I loved everything about it though! Such an interesting read and it really doesn’t broaden a writer’s horizons. The guy has a gift with words.

    • That was one of the things that I really appreciated. Some writers use word pictures in a way that’s just inappropriate and clunky. Not all of Zusak’s images are original, but he uses them in a way that makes sense in the context and flows naturally.

  3. I keep thinking about buying this book and you’ve clinched it for me. It’s going on my Kindle.

  4. I read this book in November too. I wanted to read a few books like this around Remembrance Day. I loved THE BOOK THIEF. It was high time I read it, because everyone raved about it. If I was doing RTW today, this book would be my November pick as well. :)

  5. Not sure why I haven’t read this yet – I really, really should.

  6. I really enjoyed THE BOOK THIEF as well and I’ll definitely be reading it to my son when he learns about WWII next year. Before I read it, I assumed the title referred to Hitler and how the Nazis banned and burned books, so I was surprised when that wasn’t the case. Very creative book on a topic that’s been written about a lot. I think it’s great when an author comes up with a fresh way to make us think about a historical event that needs to be remembered. Glad you enjoyed it too.

    • I made a similar assumption when I read that the book was about World War II and Nazi Germany. Not that this gave me any qualms about reading it–I enjoy history–but I was certainly a little surprised when I started and found it to be a very different, very refreshing approach to this period in Germany’s history.

  7. LOVE that book–except, the first time I read it left me so heartbroken that I gave it to my sister in law. Didn’t tell her anything about it, just left it in a bag of clothes for her to find. She called me a month later, sobbing, and said “that book!”

    It’s also great on audio (for one, you get the correct pronunciation of the swear words) and I’ve since replaced my given-away copy.

    • I suppose I should have given a warning in my review: if you are disposed to weeping, read with a box of Kleenex handy! As for the German–as a whole, not just the swear words–this didn’t give me much trouble. My German is very poor, but there were some of the words (and terms) I knew without the provided translation. :)

      • That’s the thing–I’m not usually a crier (except for certain hormonally challenged episodes) but this book got me. And as a writer, what impresses me is that you know what’s coming–and you still can’t help it!

        • That’s an interesting point. There are times when Death gives you a heads-up about what’s going to happen, and as a writer you’re thinking, “What? He’s just stolen the punch from the moment!” But then you find he hasn’t really, because when the moment comes, it’s so well written, you don’t care that you knew it was coming.

  8. I adore THE BOOK THIEF. I’ve read it twice and it’s just as amazing, if not moreso, the second time around. I have to make sure to be alone when I read the ending because I’ve sobbed both times. It’s such a beautiful book!

    • There are so many books that I need to read for the first time, I don’t know when I’ll get around to second-time readings! When I do, though, this one will be on the list.

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