First of all, I know, how have I not read this? This has been recommended to me so many times, but I somehow never picked it up until I saw a $1 copy at Half Price Books. I even watched this with my mom and sister years back because she had read the book. This is on every reader’s list it seems, and I’m glad I finally know why everyone enjoys it.
This book follows Liesel, although it is narrated by death himself. Liesel is adopted by the Hubermann family in Molching, Germany during the Nazi regime. We know little about her background, except that her brother died making the journey to be adopted by the Hubermanns. During the burial, she picks up a book – not knowing it will change her life. Her mother is strict, and her papa is much more kind, but she feels welcomed as she makes friends as she helps her mother with her work and joins the Nazi Youth.
As the war continues, death tells us a little more about his experiences. We also see Liesel and her new family make the best of wartime even though it seems far away. Her papa teaches her to read, and she is always reading her stolen book. The danger of the war suddenly confronts them when Papa must make good on a promise by hiding a Jew in their home. Liesel and Max bond over their nightmares and also their love of reading.
Throughout the story, Liesel’s relationship with books evolves as it brings her closer to her community and those she loves most. As things get difficult and her life changes, she always turns to her books.
I didn’t realize this book would be so difficult to summarize. The fact is that many things happen in this book, and it’s not all related to the main plot. The reader is very much planted into Liesel’s life and you go on this journey with her. Because it takes place during World War II, many of the conflicts arise from the tensions that most of us know about already.
I read this book very quickly for my usual pace, despite it being 500 pages. I think it’s technically a young adult book, so the hefty material was delivered in a more palatable fashion. It also was nice that it was split up into several acts, as if it were a play. The narrator has already seen it all, so he is recalling each of these important moments in Liesel’s life through acts and scenes. I think this contributed to my ability to finish in 5 days.
My prior knowledge of WWII made it so that I could see some of the big moments coming. I enjoyed that the book was narrated by death at points. That’s certainly not a narrator you get very often in stories! It was insightful, but also not distracting. I enjoyed that it added a bit more suspense as he referred to things that hadn’t happened yet.
I’m trying to think if there was anything I DIDN’T like about this book. I guess I’d say how much it hurt! The first 150 pages are rather slow, but you are getting acquainted with the characters and their situation within the war. This eventually pays off as the characters grow and experience so much. You feel so much for them, and that is why by the end I felt like my heart had been hollowed out. I had so many feelings so I was a little surprised I didn’t actually cry!
I loved how this had the theme of reading sewn throughout it. It was amazing how learning to read and enjoy reading transforms Liesel’s life from bottom to top. She befriends those who aren’t usually friendly, keeps secrets and comforts her neighborhood all with the power of books. It’s certainly something all readers can relate too, as we’ve likely been through something similar ourselves.
My favorite character was Rudy, and I’m convinced Zusak did this on purpose. You love Rudy, and it’s nearly impossible not to. He’s from a big family, he wants to do his best for them. Even as his distaste for the Nazi regime grows, he is ensnared by it further. Even though he loves to run, he can’t outrun his country or the consequences of war.
I will definitely be keeping this book, and rereading sometime soon! I tend to go through phases when I’ll read war books. This will be a great one to revisit for when I’m in that mood but also don’t quite feel like being shocked by the ruthlessness of war.
If you genuinely enjoy reading, read this. It’s also perfect for those of you who just love WWII but are looking for something a little lighter on facts.