The Book Thief is a thick (550 pages), dark, intense read. This is a story about a German girl in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The book begins with her on a train with her mother and brother, her mother is planning to leave them in foster care for a reason that is not disclosed. Her younger brother dies on the train, and when they are burying him in the cold, snowy earth, the gravedigger drops a book, and Liesel steals her first book – The Gravedigger’s Handbook. As the book goes on, her brother’s death haunts her, and she has her foster father (Papa) teach her to read the stolen book.
Markus Zusak writes a wonderful book, with amazing character development and a vivid use of imagery – you can picture yourself walking down the dingy streets of the poorer section of town where Liesel lives. Death continues to narrate, coming up with amazing quotes like “sometimes it kills me, the way people die”. He “holds their souls”, and he talks about how overworked he is in Nazi Germany. But he still finds time to go back and watch Liesel, as she has fascinated him.
This book is listed as young adult, but it would really require a very special young adult to get through this book. If a teen has been fascinated by Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, then this book might be a good next book.
While this book is fiction, it does have some bases in reality – several real events have been fictionalized as a part of the book. The realistic feel of the book makes it a good companion to The Diary of Anne Frank, as they are both about girls about the same age living in Nazi Germany. Anne is Jewish, Liesel is not, but her family does hid a Jew for a time, and she and her Papa try to help the Jews walking through their town on the way to Dachau.
A note – this book is narrated by Death, so it should come as no surprise that the last 30-50 pages require a goodly amount of tissues. If a young adult has issues with Death, this would not be an appropriate book.
However, if a young adult or adult is interested in WWII and Hitler’s Germany, and wants to see the war through a different perspective, this is a well written, amazing book. I highly recommend it, but I would also recommend reading a lighter book before/during/after.