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.