Some will argue that a book so difficult and sad may not be appropriate for teenage readers. The Book Thief was published for adults in Zusak's native Australia, and I strongly suspect it was written for adults. Adults will probably like it (this one did), but it's a great young-adult novel. Many teenagers will find the story too slow to get going, which is a fair criticism. But it's the kind of book that can be life-changing, because without ever denying the essential amorality and randomness of the natural order, The Book Thief offers us a believable, hard-won hope. That hope is embodied in Liesel, who grows into a good and generous person despite the suffering all around her, and finally becomes a human even Death can love. The hope we see in Liesel is unassailable, the kind you can hang on to in the midst of poverty and war and violence. Young readers need such alternatives to ideological rigidity, and such explorations of how stories matter. And so, come to think of it, do adults.
John Green - New York Times Book Review
While it is set in Germany during World War II and is not immune to bloodshed, most of this story is figurative: it unfolds as symbolic or metaphorical abstraction. The dominoes lined up on its cover are compared to falling bodies. The book thief of the title is a schoolgirl named Liesel Meminger, and the meaning of her stealing is not left unexplained. She has been robbed of a brother, who dies at the start of the book. Her mother disappears, and then Liesel is left in foster care. A great deal has been taken away from her. She steals books to settle the score.... The Book Thief will be appreciated for Mr. Zusak's audacity, also on display in his earlier "I Am the Messenger." It will be widely read and admired because it tells a story in which books become treasures. And because there's no arguing with a sentiment like that.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
The Book Thief is unsettling and unsentimental, yet ultimately poetic. Its grimness and tragedy run through the reader's mind like a black-and-white movie, bereft of the colors of life. Zusak may not have lived under Nazi domination, but The Book Thief deserves a place on the same shelf with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel's Night. It seems poised to become a classic.
(Audio version.) Corduner uses considerable zeal and a talent for accents to navigate Zusak's compelling, challenging novel set in Nazi Germany. Death serves as knowing narrator for the tale, which is framed much like a lengthy flashback. The storytelling aspects of this structure include asides to the listener, and lots of foreshadowing about what eventually happens to the various lead characters-appealing features for listeners. But Corduner seems to most enjoy embracing the heart of things here-the rather small and ordinary saga of 10-year-old Liesel Meminger, who has been given over to a foster family following her mother's branding as a "Kommunist" and the death of her younger brother. Under her foster parents' care, she learns how to read, how to keep terrifying secrets and how to hone her skills as a book thief, a practice that keeps her sane and feeds her newfound love of words. With quick vocal strokes, Corduner paints vivid, provocative portraits of Germans and Jews under unfathomable duress and the ripple effect such circumstances have on their lives. (For Ages 12-up.)
With Death as narrator, Markus Zusak's haunting novel follows Liesel Meminger, The Book Thief, through the fear-filled years of Nazi Germany. The story opens as the ten-year-old girl takes her first book shortly after her younger brother's death. Both children were en route to the foster home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann in a Munich suburb. Despite Rosa's sharp tongue and Hans's lack of work, their home is a loving refuge for the nightmare-ridden girl. It also becomes a hideout for Max, a young Jewish man whose father saved Hans's life. Liesel finds solace with her neighbor Rudy and her creative partnership with Max. Accompanied by Rudy, the girl copes by stealing food from farmers and books from the mayor's wife. There are also good moments as she learns to read and plays soccer, but Hans's ill-advised act of kindness to a Jewish prisoner forces Max to leave their safe house. The failing war effort and bombing by the Allies lead to more sacrifices, a local suicide and, eventually, to great losses. Reading books and writing down her experiences save Liesel, but this novel clearly depicts the devastating effects of war. Narrator Allan Corduner defines each character with perfect timing. He's deliberate as the voice of Death, softly strong as Liesel, and impatient, but not unkind, as Rosa. With richly evocative imagery and compelling characters, Zusak explores behind-the-lines life in World War II Germany, showing the day-to-day heroism of ordinary people. Relevant for class discussions on wars both past and present. (For grades 9-up.)
Barbara Wysocki - Library Journal
When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as "an attempt-a flying jump of an attempt-to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it." When her foster father helps her learn to read and she discovers the power of words, Liesel begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor's wife's library. As she becomes a better reader, she becomes a writer, writing a book about her life in such a miserable time. Liesel's experiences move Death to say, "I am haunted by humans." How could the human race be "so ugly and so glorious" at the same time? This big, expansive novel is a leisurely working out of fate, of seemingly chance encounters and events that ultimately touch, like dominoes as they collide. The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it's a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important. (For ages 12-up.)
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