Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: Young Adult Lit, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
The Book Thief is Markus Zusak’s tale of a young girl living in Germany during World War II. Despite the fact that this book is classified as a young adult book, Zusak tackles adult themes involving ignorance and the senseless destruction of war. Zusak does not sugar-coat this tale, and it is definitely the sort of young adult book that should only be read by a truly mature reader (regardless of age).
Oh, and did I mention that the book is narrated by Death?
Liesel Meminger, the protagonist of the tale, is living with her foster family and develops an incredibly close bond with her foster father, Hans Hubermann. The tale revolves around Liesel’s life in a German town against the foreboding backdrop of the impending German defeat in WWII. With the looming danger of war always on the horizon, Liesel goes about her life in the town and develops a strong relationship (maybe even romantic?) with a young boy named Rudy. A Jewish man also comes to the Hubermann family for help, so the very real historical situation of a German family trying to hide a Jewish person is central to the tale. Liesel’s love of books and the heart-wrenching power of ignorance (as noted in a book burning scene) are also central to The Book Thief.
Possibly the best part of the entire story is Zusak’s decision to use Death as the narrator. Not only is the concept mind-blowingly cool, but Death is able to interject plenty of wisdom and thought-provoking concepts for the reader to consider. It also fits so well with the time period in which millions of people are being murdered throughout the world as a result of the war. Death’s constant presence as narrator is a brilliant stylistic choice so that the reader never forgets about its looming presence.
The Book Thief is the most poignant young adult novel that I have ever read. It proves the point that the young adult genre is sometimes only set aside from “adult” books by the age of the protagonist and not by the book’s quality or depth. The Book Thief is not for the faint of heart, and it does feature Germany as it is being bombed by the Allies, so the atmosphere is quite dark. For any reader who is ready for a darker tale that realistically presents the repercussions of war on the civilian population, or about the struggle between ignorance and understanding, The Book Thief is the perfect choice.