© 2005, Pan McMillan, Australia (US version © 2006, Knopf, NY)
I first started noticing this one on bookstore shelves about five or six years ago. The Book Thief. What a great title for a book-lover like myself. I wanted to read it. Then I heard that it was getting an award or two. That made me want to read it more. Then they made it into a movie—now I have to read it before viewing the movie. Well, now, I’ve read it and haven’t decided whether to rent the movie or not (you can let me know what to decide in the comments section). While I was waiting for the book to make it to me on library request, we found a nice trade paperback copy at the local school Scholastic Book Fair. As I bought it the librarian indicated that another parent had said it was “one of the best books ever.” Now, I’m hooked.
I must tell you, dear reader, it took me about three months with stops and starts to get through the book. It isn’t a page-turner as such, and it isn’t for the light of heart. American publishers chose to market it under a YA labeling (Knopf Books for Young Readers was the first to release it), and I’m not sure that I’d place it in the Juvenile section. There is some really dark imagery in the book, the subject matter is really heavy, and from time to time the language is not appropriate for younger readers. That said, I would let my soon to be thirteen-year-old read it if she so chose with the proviso that she and I make some discussion out of it.
It wasn’t until after I started reading the book that I realized that it dealt with the Holocaust. That’s not necessarily a problem, I just hadn’t done my usual fly-leaf, book back scanning, and so I had to put on my Anne Frank/Hiding Place glasses to get into the book. The story, narrated by none other than Death himself, follows the life of Liesel Meminger—a young German girl who loses her family and is thrust into the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann as a foster daughter. It is with a compelling eye and a heavy heart that you dive into the society of Nazi Germany on the poor side of a Munich suburb and feel all of the tragedy that befalls people who are just trying to survive. And then the air raids start.
Readers are not spared the death, the politics, the cruelty, or the heroism that could be witnessed in the streets of Germany during a horrible time in world history. We see the maltreatment of the Jews—just for being Jewish; the harsh punishment for people—just for being humane; and the travesty for boys—just for being boys. From the story side, this book is good, but not great.
From the literary side, this book is a masterpiece. I cannot say that it is the best book I have ever read, but the weaving of the language to build the right word pictures is nothing less than stellar. I would recommend this one over Frank’s Diary to study the Holocaust if the purpose was to see the event from a literary side (from a historical viewpoint, stick with Anne Frank).
This book is not for everyone, but it deserves accolades and it gets four out of five reading glasses from me.
—Benjamin Potter, September 17, 2014