The Book Thief, a moving and haunting novel written by Markus Zusak, has been hailed by critics as a modern classic. Written in 2005, it has received the title of Michael L. Printz Honor Book, which is bestowed only upon the highest quality of teen literature. It has received many other honors, including the Daniel Elliott Peace Award.
The novel follows the life of Liesel Meminger, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany who, en route to the home of her new foster family, apprehends a grave digger’s handbook from a pile of snow. This is only the first in a long chain of books that Liesel steals, from unexpected places such as a fiery book burning or the mayor’s stately house on a hill.
Her calm life with her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, is disrupted when a Jew, Max Vandenburg, arrives at their doorstep. Because Hans owes Max’s father a favor, the Hubermann family is forced to adopt him and keep him hidden away in their basement, at the risk of being arrested should any government officials find him. Over time, Liesel bonds with Max over their mutual love of books, and their shaky relationship becomes a sturdy friendship.
A key component of the novel is that Death serves as the narrator of the book. What could have been an overly gruesome concept is manipulated into a clever plot device, as Death relates the twists and turns of the characters’ lives with dark, grim humor. The book takes on a new level of complexity with this factor and elevates what could have been a boring plot to a riveting read.
This book is especially valuable for high school freshmen and sophomores for two reasons: first, because it is unofficial young adult literature (although it can certainly be enjoyed by readers at almost any age). Secondly, it is important because it is a summer reading option for Honors World Literature, the sophomore English class at the highest level. However, this novel can also be read purely for pleasure. It may be several hundred pages, but anyone who has read it can tell you that the riveting plot makes it go by quickly.
The 2013 movie is the first attempt at adapting the novel for the screen. Starring Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse, it has received positive reviews so far. As a tear-jerker book, it promises to be just as emotional of a movie, so tissues are advised.
The literary merit of the novel should not be underestimated, but the cinematic value is equally important. If you are looking for a dramatic plot filled with dark comedy and sentimental moments, The Book Thief is most certainly the one for you. The movie is currently in theaters, but whether you choose to visit the world of Liesel, Max, Rosa, and Hans onscreen or on the page, you are assured a gratifying and fulfilling ride.
Overall, I would definitely recommend Zusak’s The Book Thief to any reader, with a rating of 4.5/5 stars. Although the author occasionally gets bogged down in minute details, it is a novel not to be missed.