I have started to write my opening sentence many times, but I keep deleting it. I am having a hard time distilling down a young adult novel about the holocaust, a young girl and her compulsion for words (once she finally learned them) and a rather unconventional narrator — and that’s what we have with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.
Liesel is a young German girl who lives a life of loss. She has no father, her brother dies on the train as her mother is taking both children to a foster family, and once she arrives at her new home, she never hears from her mother again. She has very little with her, and not much to connect her to her lost family, except a book she has taken from her brother’s grave site. Her first stolen book. But she slowly beings to make a family life for herself (as dysfunctional as it is with a loud and outwardly rude foster mother, and a foster father who while soothing her nightmares stays up reading with her all night). She also slowly builds a small “stolen” library.
Many people are part of building Liesel into who she is, she makes an impression on so many people that they all rally to protect her and educate her. Maybe none more so than Max, a German Jewish man who comes to hide in her foster family’s basement. It is through him that we see the story of the Jewish experience in Germany during Hilter’s reign, and of the holocaust.
There are so many stories and paths that interconnect back to Liesel in this book, so I will refrain from saying too much. Although one problem that I found with the book was a narrator who said too much before we come to that action in the story. We are told how to expect things to go before they get there – and we know some of who death will take before he takes them. I spend a lot of time when I’m reading trying to think ahead to how things will play out, this book sort of took some of that away from me (other times I found myself expecting things to happen at a certain point, and they didn’t). But overall I thought it was a good story, and I really enjoyed seeing Max’s work and drawings in the book. It certainly is much more than a young adult novel, it’s a story that can touch many various readers’ hearts.