Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Liesel Meminger. The story focuses on a family struggling through WWII Germany and the power of words to unite people. Liesel, having just lost her brother, finds a small book near his grave and finds comfort in its pages. There’s one problem- she can’t read. She struggles to learn with the help of her new adoptive father, Hans Hubermann. Before long, as she tries to adapt to her new life and family, Liesel begins to steal books from wherever she can find them. At a time when the Nazis burned books to eliminate resistance, Liesel learns the power of knowledge and empathy for others through protecting their stories.
This story is unlike any other historical fiction I have read. It is witty and funny without sacrificing the tense atmosphere that was present in Nazi Germany. It is not really a war story, nor is it depressing. Zusak chooses to focus on Liesel’s love of reading and her choice to disobey societal norms as a way of illustrating the sacrifices the ordinary people of Germany had to make. He focuses on the importance of love and trust during a time when trusting the wrong person could result in death. The story highlights moral resilience and childhood innocence.
Zusak’s choice of having Death as the narrator is unique and adds a new dimension of sympathy. The story portrays the brutality of human suffering while contrasting it with the beauty of Liesel’s resistance to conformity and the playfulness of her childhood. She is a character you cannot help but root for. Readers of Markus Zusak will recognize his consistent use of intense emotional connections between the characters, which is transfixing and all-encompassing ( My favorite being that between Liesel and Hans Hubermann). The story is eye-opening and puts you in the shoes of a small girl whose situation most 21st-century readers will never truly be able to understand. But this book is a glimpse into the struggles of a war-torn people, and Zusak proves through Liesel that empathy and love can overcome all evil.
-Emily, grade 12