I cannot describe this book well enough.
Words fail me. Truly. It has left a huge impact. I will remember these characters forever.
The author is brilliant. One of the BEST authors I have ever read. It should be required reading for every German, Jew, American and every single high school student who can read above a grade 8 level. It is life-changing and mind-numbing.
I am wiped out emotionally from just finishing this book about an hour ago.
I'm not going to summarize but rather, I will put in quotes the summary from the back of the book, page 2 of the Readers Guide at the end of the novel. Words in parenthesis are my own words.
" Liesel Meminger is only nine years old when she is taken (by her mother and little brother, who dies on the way,) to live with the Hubermanns (Hans and Rosa), a foster family on Himmel Street in Molching, Germany, in the late 1930s. She arrives with few possessions, but among them is The Grave Digger's Handbook, a book she stole from her brother's burial place. During the years that Liesel lives with the Hubermanns, Hitler becomes more powerful, life on Himmel Street becomes more fearful, and Liesel becomes a full-fledged book thief. She rescues books from Nazi book-burnings and steals from the library of the mayor. Liesel is illiterate when she steals her first book (she is 10 in the beginning of the story), but Hans Hubermann uses her prized books to teach her to read. This is a story of courage, friendship, love, survival, death, and grief. This is Liesel's life on Himmel Street, told from Death's point of view."
and from the back of the book:
"It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words; as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found. But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down."
I'm always saying on this blog that "this is the best book I've read all year" because I love books and most of the ones I choose are fantastic. But really? THIS novel is THE BEST one I have ever read. It truly is. I've always thought Les Miserables was the best...but this beats that. This author is a master at his craft.
The story's voice is that of Death. It is chilling. It is eye-opening. It is brilliant.
This piece of literature is also done differently than most books set in WWII. It is from the perspective of Germans who despise Hitler. I loved that.
Also, in one part of the story, the Jewish man hiding in the basement, creates his own story on old newsprint. The author does a fantastic job of creating the pages to look like what the character (Max) was doing with that paper. The sketches and words are just amazing. This happens twice in the book and each time I was astounded at the brilliance of this idea. It is potent. It really makes you think that these people were real....were actually alive in that time period.
The story is brave. It is about true heroes. It is about abandonment. There is also a lot of symbolism in this story. The symbolism of Death being the narrator is amazing.....and it brings out Death's feelings for each victim. One of the best quotes (and it's also brought up again in the reader guide) is the following:
"I'm always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both" (page 491).
The story is friendship. The friendship between Liesel and her best friend, another German boy, Rudy. The friendship between Liesel and Max, the Jewish man hiding in the Hubermann's basement. The friendship between Liesel and Papa. And the friendship between Liesel and Ilsa, the mayor's wife. These friends will make you laugh. and cry. and moan. and cheer.
The story is guilt. Hans' guilt about being alive after WWI showed me just how powerful it is as an emotion.....but in Hans' life, he uses that guilt to help others.
I love how the author used foreshadowing in this book.....it is very powerful.
The ending left me with tears. In my eyes. And in my heart.
The very last sentence will be one to ponder for a very long time to come:
"A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR (Death): I am haunted by humans." (page 550).
This story will stay with me for a very long time. As it should.
In my opinion, this book is appropriate for advanced readers ages 14 and older.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest I rate this a 10. But it doesn't need a rating. It needs a reading. Read this. And then let me know what YOU thought.