It is always hard to come to a book with high expectations. The Book Thief has won a ton of prizes, lots of people list it as one of their all time favorite books. But it was just not on my radar when it came out in 2006.
The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, who is 9 years old at the beginning of the story. The story is narrated by Death, who does not really reveal himself until late in the book, but it is clear who he is.
Death first met Liesel when her brother dies on a train. Liesel steals a book (that was dropped in the snow) during her brother’s funeral. That book becomes a totem of her brother and when Liesel is left with a foster family, it is that book (and the love of her foster father who eventually teaches her to read) that brings her through the nightmares of her brother’s death and her mother’s abandonment.
This is clearly a World War II story. A significant story line is about a Jewish young man that Liesel’s family hides in their basement for several years. There are the horrors of war, the fear of Nazis, the deprivations on poverty, etc. But this is also a good story about the healing power of love. Hans, the foster father, cares for her, sleeps in her room because she has nightmares, reads with her to comfort her, sells his cigarettes to buy her books. As much as it is possible during war, Hans tries to give Liesel a good childhood.
This is the story of growing up during war. I appreciate that as much as this show the negative of war, there is some real life as well. Liesel plays with her friends, she goes to school, she tries to find her place in a new family. There are also real people, not just caricatures of the German citizens.
I liked this book, but I was not in love with it as many others have been. It is a solid book for late Elementary or middle school. It is about the horrors of World War II without being too graphic for children. It is about death and the sadness of death without either glossing over it or losing the story to death.
I think what most people loved about it was that it really captured the power of books to help people find meaning and literally save their lives. People who love this book, love books. And the audiobook narration was perfect, which is always a plus for any good book.