Published September 2007 by Random House Children's Books
Source: Bought this one
Young Liesel Meminger is on her way to live with a foster family, her communist mother no longer able to care for her in Adolph Hitler's Germany, when her brother dies. When he is buried, one of the gravediggers drops his handbook in the snow. It will be the first book that Liesel steals, even though she is unable to read. It will also be Death's first encounter with Liesel.
Arriving at Hans and Rosa Huberman's small home, Liesel is at first terrified by Rosa (who has a "face decorated with constant fury"), but is soon won over by kind-hearted, accordion-playing Hans. Every night Liesel is awakened by nightmares of her brother's death and every night Hans sits up with her until she falls back to sleep, first reading to Liesel and then teaching her to read.
Life settles into a routine on the street, despite the war and the constant tension caused by the Nazi party. Liesel and her best friend, Rudy, struggle to make their way as they grow into their teens, joining a group of food thieves, dealing with the Hitler youth, and stealing books for Liesel.
Then one night a young Jewish man arrives at the house seeking safe shelter. Max is the son of a man Hans credits with saving his life in World War I; Hans has long ago told the boy's mother that if there is ever anything he can do, he will. And now it's time to pay back his debt and despite the great risk, the Huberman's make good, although it means that Max will spend most of the next few months in the basement. As much as Max benefits from the shelter the family offers, the family benefits from their time with the young man. But as the war progresses, life on the street becomes much more dangerous. And Death makes his appearance again.
Death is the narrator of The Book Thief. This could have come off as nothing more than a gimmick. It could have made the book entirely too maudlin for the young adult audience it is intended for. In Zusak's hands, it did neither. In the time and place in which The Book Thief is set, Zusak's Death is more humane than most of the humans surrounding young Liesel. Death, as it turns out, also has something of a sense of humor."First the colors.Then the humans.That's usually how I see things.Or at least how I try.
*** HERE IS A SMALL FACT***You are going to die."
"Please believe me when I tell you that I picked up each soul that day as if it were newly born. I even kissed a few weary, poisoned cheeks. I listened to their last gasping cries. Their vanishing words. I watched their love visions and free them from their fear."
Zusak gives his readers marvelously complex characters, characters that develop and unfold as the book progresses. As the book began I would not have imagined that I would come to the end feeling affection for Rosa, yet I did. Using ordinary German citizens gives this story a unique take on Hitler's Germany, making it accessible to younger readers but also forcing older readers to consider the people of German in a new light and understand the guilt of the survivors.
What most astounded me about this book, what grabbed me immediately, was the poetry of Zusak's writing. You may have noticed in other reviews, that I am drawn to poetic writing but Zusak has pushed "poetic" further than any author I recall, blending prose and pure poetry into one novel. The writing in The Book Thief is compelling and beautiful, even when the images Zusak is painting are not so beautiful."To live.Living was living.The price was guilt and shame."
A pair of train guards.
A pair of grave diggers.
When it came down to it, one of them called the shots,
The other did what he was told.
The question is, what if the other is a lot more than one?"