Publication Date: September 1, 2005
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 550
Synopsis (from back of the book because I like it better than the Goodreads one): It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.
Review: I don't know how to start this review. But I do know that this is probably going to be looooong. Be prepared, and if you make it to the end of the review, I seriously love you. I guess I'll first list my initial thoughts while reading this book.
- The narrator is... Death? What? That's cool.
- I feel no attachment to Liesel.
- Liesel is so selfish.
- Markus Zusak, your writing style is definitely strange.
- Where is the plot? Honestly!
As said, those were my initial thoughts. My initial thoughts are extremely different from my final ones. Here's a little hint on how I feel about this book: I stayed up reading this book, shed so many tears that the rhythm of the droplets hitting my blanket began to resemble a soft drum beat, and upon finishing the book, stayed awake for perhaps an hour before closing my eyes long enough to fall asleep.
I'm going to be honest and say that if The Book Thief wasn't my required reading for school this upcoming year, I would have probably dropped it and never looked back. The first half of the novel (and I seriously mean the first half! I wasn't invested until well over 200 pages in) was dull, in my opinion. I felt like there was no urge for me to keep reading. I couldn't identify the main plot, nor did I have an ounce of desire to follow the rest of Liesel's story. Thank goodness to BookTube-a-thon (a YouTube readathon) and the fact that it's my summer reading, otherwise, I probably wouldn't have finished this book. I was honestly spending weeks on this one book that everyone had praised so, so much. That's another thing: everyone under the sun seems to be obsessed with this book, and when I started reading, I felt so left out because I couldn't understand the hype at all.
Liesel was a character I didn't like for a long time before slowly changing my mind. I think this was because the protagonist and the narrator are not one and the same. The narrator is Death himself which I thought was a really great and unique idea. However, because of this, I felt distant when it came to Liesel. I was receiving her story second-hand and I didn't have an emotional connection to her. On several occasions, I found her extremely selfish, and in turn, found myself disliking her.
This all changed around half-way in. Something changed for me. There was a plot suddenly. Liesel developed as a character. Of course, she still had flaws, but there was more to her than the things I disliked. Her relationships with all the characters suddenly glowed right in my face. I especially loved the development of Hans Hubermann, Liesel's foster father, and Max Vandenburg, the Jew they hide in their basement. Both characters were so compelling to read about, I just loved them. And, of course, I absolutely adored Rudy Steiner.
After finishing the book, I understand now. I understand why so many people love and praise this novel. I see the investment that people put into this book. Based on my experience, after finishing the book, I felt like I had lost a piece of my soul within the 550 pages. The ending of this novel affected me so much. I had no idea this book could do that to me, especially after such a rocky start.
Back to Death as a narrator. (Sorry for the lack of organization in this review. So many scattered thoughts!) I found it unique, but I feel like there were flaws. (Obviously not everyone will agree with me on this.) I thought that Death was an inconsistent narrator. There are times when he makes snarky comments, and there are other times where his monologue-ish thoughts are really mushy. And when it came to the plot, it was the most non-linear plot I've ever encountered. Death likes to jump back and forth, revealing spoilers that will happen in a few years or a few months, and then he goes back in time. He tells you what's going to happen and then goes back to lead up to it. I don't exactly know how I felt about that.
As mentioned before, Markus Zusak's writing is strange. Honestly, I can't think of a better word to fit his writing style. I'm sure many readers are eager to label Zusak's writing as "beautiful" and "poetic," which in some cases, is very, very true! Please don't get me wrong. But at other times, he makes the strangest analogies. His figurative language ranges from "wow, that was breathtaking" to "how does that even make sense." My friend fell in love with Zusak's prose, as many other readers did, but I'm not a quick fan. Some things were just so weirdly worded, or the analogies were so far-fetched, that I couldn't help but choose strange over beautiful.
I think that's all I wanted to mention. I understand that this review is ridiculously lengthy. There is just so much I had to say about this novel. Based on my reading experience, The Book Thief is a certain kind of gem that needs a bit of polish before you can see its beauty. But once the dirt is gone, prepare to be blinded by how this novel shines.