Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on January 25, 2010
I purchased this book on my Kindle, which I totally love - but its one downside is that you can't pass a book along to somebody else when you're done with it. If I'd known how much I'd want to share this book, I would have bought a paper copy. I might actually go ahead buy a few copies just so I can share them.

I heard the following explanation of why it's in the "Teen Literature" genre (I don't know if this explanation is correct, but it makes sense): It was originally published in Australia in the normal "Literature" genre, and was fully intended for an adult audience. When the publisher brought it to America, though, they decided that books in the Literature genre don't sell as well here and it would get more exposure in the "Young Adult" and "Teen" market, so they threw it in there to make more money.

I think probably every teen SHOULD read this, in the same way they should all read The Diary of Anne Frank, but I doubt it will appeal to many of them. Certainly not to the same crowd of teens that's gone crazy recently over Twilight and Harry Potter before that.

It's the (fictional, but very true-to-life) story of a young girl raised by foster parents in Germany during World War II. Her family is hiding a Jew, and so is in constant danger of being discovered by the Nazis. (In this way, it's reminiscent of The Diary of Anne Frank but told from a completely different perspective.) Interestingly, the story is actually narrated by Death. Death himself is very much a character in the book even though he takes no direct hand in the plot other than quietly and compassionately collecting souls when their time comes. He interjects his own opinions and notes throughout. (At first these interjections seemed distracting, but before long they became one of my favorite aspects of the book.) By tying such a narrator so closely to the story the author ensures that the right mood is maintained throughout. The author's concept of an personified Death is very different than the ones we are used to. In one parenthetical statement Death even alludes to his more classic personification when he comments, "I like this human idea of the grim reaper. I like the scythe. It amuses me."

The main character of the book is Liesel. Everything she's ever had, even her family, has been taken from her, so early on in the book (the first chapter or two, if I recall), in attempt to have anything at all that is hers, she steals a book left accidentally on the ground by an apprentice grave digger just after the funeral of her younger brother. It's "The Gravedigger's Handbook". She can't read, and has no idea of what the book is - it's just one of the only things in the world that is hers now, so she hides it away like a treasure. When her foster father finds it, he realizes that she'd like to learn how to read. Being too poor to afford any other book, they use that one to teach her. He's hesitant about the subject matter but, in a wonderful illustration of the character's optimism in the face of even the most depressing situation he laughs and tells her as they get started, "Well, promise me one thing Liesel. If I die any time soon, you make sure they bury me right. No skipping chapter six or step four in chapter nine." The Gravedigger's Handbook becomes the first of several books that she steals, and the story tells how each one changes her life.

This is the first fictional novel to ever actually make me cry. A few times throughout the book I realized I was about to let loose a tear, but I managed to get through those without actually crying. (Typical male: Just had to man-up, ya know?) But then, as I finished it, my face was literally wet. It's an amazingly moving book. In addition to the tears, it also made me laugh in a lot of places, made me happy and inspired in a lot of places, and just generally ran the gamut of human emotion. I've never had a book affect me like that, and certainly not one that I knew was fictional. (But just because it's fictional doesn't mean it isn't full of truth. It shows many of the horrors of war in such realistic terms that you'd swear it could only be written by somebody in Anne Frank's position.)

I've always felt for the Jews who were persecuted during that war, but this book has given me a whole new appreciation for the few German citizens who were brave enough to protect some of these persecuted people, the ones who were wise enough to recognize the Nazi propaganda against the Jews for what it was, and who were human enough to risk their lives and families to do what they could do to help the oppressed.

As far as actual objective quality of writing, I wouldn't go so far as to say that The Book Thief is written as well as a few others I've read. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett comes to mind as one with higher quality writing, as does The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell. But the writing here is incredibly poetic in many places, and when it comes to grabbing your emotions and making you feel like you're living in the story, I've never seen another book as well-done. Because I'd heard it was in the Teen section of the bookstore, I started it very skeptically, and it took a while for me to get used to the very odd narrative style - but by the time I was a third of the way through I was completely hooked.

Whoever it was at the publishing company who decided to call it "Teen Literature" needs to be strung up by the thumbs. I'll admit that if every teen read this book during their most impressionable years then it would probably make the world a better place because more of them would grow up into people who want to actively avoid war. But I doubt that many teens have the social maturity to really appreciate all that this book has to offer. I know there are many who do, and those that do have my complete respect, and I hope this book finds them. But the adult market is a far more appropriate venue for this book that I can only hope becomes regarded as a classic in years to come.
6 people found this helpful
Report abuse Permalink