When I was in eighth grade, I went on a class trip to Washington DC. One of the locations we visited was the Holocaust Museum. For those who have not been there, it is a touching and gut-wrenching experience. It was fairly quiet in there, save for television screens showing bits of documentaries. You couldn’t help but walk slowly, wanting to absorb every ounce of information there was to offer. From the room of portraits that was three stories high to the pile of shoes in the floor, I had a hard time wrapping my head around what happened between 1938 and 1945. For a new kind of story about such a devastating historical event, I will now tell you about The Book Thief.
It all starts with the death of Liesel Meminger’s younger brother. After he is buried, she finds a book titled The Grave Digger’s Handbook. Despite the fact she cannot read, Liesel becomes fascinated with books and begins to steal from the Nazi book-burnings. Soon, Liesel is sent to a foster home where her foster father helps to teach her to read, her foster mother rules with an iron fist, and a Jewish boxer named Max hides in the basement. She befriends a boy named Rudy who dreams of being as fast as Jesse Owens. Told through the eyes of Death, who is fascinated with Liesel, her life changes forever during the Second World War.
The first thing I love about this novel is the fact it is told through the perspective of Death. The entity is honest, a touch humorous, and profound. Liesel is a great female lead, exhibiting bravery that one might not expect from such a young girl. The characters all exhibit such strong personalities that shine against the dark backdrop. In a way, they are all outcasts who bond with each other throughout the outbreak of Nazism. Though this novel is certainly heart-breaking and dark, it also offers a message of hope and love that will bring any reader to tears. Zusak artfully crafts a unique historical fiction that deserves more attention.
Note: There is a movie adaptation, if you are interested. I personally have not seen it.