Although The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was published as a Young Adult book, one of my grown-up book groups recently read it for our September selection. The response was unanimous - everyone loved it! As soon as I finished it, I lent it to my neighbor, who was similarly impressed and then recommended it to her friends. That's the way it goes with a unique and well-written book.
And The Book Thief is certainly unique. The story is narrated by Death. Yes, you read that correctly, and Death is a surprisingly sympathetic and endearing character who tells this story from a unique perspective. While this choice of narrator seems strange at first, it works quite well.
The book thief of the title is a young girl named Liesel who lives in Nazi Germany at the time of World War II. Death first encounters Liesel when she is just 9 years old and her brother dies. He sees Liesel take her first book, The Grave Digger's Handbook, even though she can not yet read. Liesel goes to live with foster parents in a very poor section of a small town and encounters all sorts of characters, some friendly and some more sinister. While going to school, taking part in Junior Nazi activities, and helping her family harbor a hidden Jew, she continues to encounter both Death and stolen books, and both have a significant impact on her life.
Anyone who loves to read will appreciate the positive role of books in Liesel's life and in the lives of those she cares about. In fact, it is a book - her own hand-written life story - that ultimately saves her life. This is one of those books that takes you through every emotion imaginable. And after all, isn't that the point of a really good book: to make you feel something? The Book Thief does that and more.
Due to its subject matter and setting during the Holocaust, The Book Thief is most appropriate for older teens or adults.