The Book Thief, which won several honors in 2005 and 2006, including the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2006), Publishers Weekly Children's Best Book of the Year (2006) and Michael L. Printz Honor Book (2007), is a historical fiction book set in the time of Nazi Germany.
The Book Thief is a story of a young girl, Liesel, her family and friends, and their turbulent lives during the years prior to and during WWII. Liesel joined her new family when her mother needed to give her and her brother up for adoption. We can speculate that her mother was a communist and killed shortly after giving her daughter away, as Liesel often heard others call her father a communist, and when she asks her new papa if her mother was a communist and now dead, he said that he believes that she was. On the way to Himmel Street, where her foster parents would be found, her brother died. When they stopped at the nearest city to bury him, Liesel starter her illustrious career as the book thief. She took The Grave Digger's Handbook from the men who dug the grave for her brother. She felt as though this would keep he close to her brother's memory. Her new mama, Rosa Hubermann, was a tough broad, leading her household with an iron fist and a horrendous mouth (which was common with many of the characters throughout the book). Her papa, Hans Hubermann, is a soft spoken, loving man. He is the one to take care of Liesel when she has nightmares about her brothers' death, the one to teach her how to read and write, starting with The Grave Digger's Handbook, and to keep her secrets that would get her a beating from Rosa.
The other three notable characters in the book are Rudy, Max and Ilsa. Rudy is Liesel's best friend. She spent almost every day from the time she joined the Hubermann family with Rudy, playing soccer, stealing food from farms and books from the mayor's wife, Ilsa. Rudy was a fun, spirited young boy who only wanted one thing from Liesel -- a kiss.
Max has quite the history through this book. His father served in WWI with Hans Hubermann, and saved Hans life by suggesting he stay back to write letters on the day the rest of his platoon was killed. When Hans visited Max's mother after his father died, he made a promise to help the family in any way he could. Max came to cash in on that promise over 20 years later, when he needed hide from the Nazis. You see, Max is Jewish, and was no longer safe in his own country. "With a clean-shaven face and lopsided yet neatly combed hair, he had walked out of that building a new man. In fact, he walked out a German. Hang on a second. He was German. Or more to the point, he had been." This quote was so incredibly sad to me. Max, as well as millions as others had been turned on by their own people, and had to stay in hiding for years to try to stay safe throughout the war. Max became a good friend of Liesel's, encouraging her to read and write, even writing his own book as a gift to her. They connected through the power of words.
Ilsa is the mayor's wife. She is very sad throughout the book, as she had a son who died and she was not able to move on with her life. She saw Liesel steal her second book and knew she needed to invite her into her life. Ilsa has a huge library in her home and allowed Liesel to read at her house every week while Liesel picked up the laundry for her mama to wash and iron. That is, until her mother was fired, which is when Liesel started stealing books from Isla.
There were many questions that ran through my head as I was reading, starting with page four. "I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary. You will know me well enough and soon enough, depending on a diverse range of variables. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away." This made me question who the narrator was. At this point, I couldn't determine whether it was death or a murderer. It only took another page or two to determine that death was, in fact, the narrator of the book, which made for an interesting perspective. Reading the thoughts of the 'person' who is there in our final moments is pretty powerful. There were several times within the book that I forgot Death was the narrator. Since our main character was the book thief, or Liesel, I would forget that it is not written from her perspective.
I also had questions about why she was called the book thief and who came up with the name. At the beginning of the book, Death tells us, "It's just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. I saw the book thief three times." Because of this quote, I assumed Death named her the book thief, but in truth, it was her best friend, Rudy, when he realized that she was stealing books.
For those who may come across this blog and haven't read the book, I do not want to give away what happens to all of our memorable characters, but do want to say that this book puts life today in perspective. With all of the problems we think we have today, Liesel and her friends and family had so many more. They worried about having enough work to earn a living and food to eat. They worried about the every day choices they made, such as keeping the curtains open, so that they would avoid suspicion of wrong-doing. They worried about their lives ending daily, either from their secret of hiding Max being uncovered, or later, from the bombings throughout their country. My daily stress seems completely incomparable to the stress they must have felt every second of their day.
The children tried to continue in their normal lives. They played soccer, got into fights, went to school, read books and committed childish acts of thievery, but were also Hitler Youth. The boys had to go to training, getting ready for their future in support of Hitler and his beliefs.
The Book Thief was sad, but I also found it inspiring. It had multi-dimensional characters who you couldn't help but love. We start the book thinking that Rosa is an awful person, but as we read, we realize that she is actually a very caring, giving person. She is hard on the people in her family, but steps up when Max needs help. She cares for him and helps to ensure he is fed, warm and safe. Hans may have brought him in, but Rosa is the one who allows him to stay. When overhearing this conversation, Liesel wonders, "Who are these people?" She only knew Rosa as an overbearing mama, so it was good for her to see this side of her. I believe Isla also grows a lot throughout the book. As I stated before, she was unable to move on after her son's death, walking around in a bathrobe and slippers, with wild hair, daily. Toward the end of the book, she is beginning to heal. She goes to Liesel's home, fully dressed, giving her another book. Isla is able to heal even more when she becomes a hero of sorts to Liesel. (That's all I can say without giving it away!) The characters in this book are good people. They don't believe in the war and do their part to help those who are greatly affected.
I would like to write to the style of Zusak's writing. I loved that he gave so much away before the end of the book. We knew that this was set in a horrific time in our history, and could expect some of what happened, so I liked that Zusak didn't leave much mystery in that. We were able to concentrate on the story and not continuously wonder what was going to happen.
The Book Thief was turned into a movie in 2013. Watch the trailer shown below. If you'd like to read The Book Thief, you can find a copy at your local library. To find out the best place to get it, click here.