Up for today: THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
Why I bought it? This one was actually a recommendation from Nathan Bransford, agent extraordinaire. I wanted to see the kinds of things he really likes, so I asked for some suggestions. This one was on the list and sounded interesting to me.
Synopsis: This book, narrated by Death, is set in Germany prior to and during WWII. Liesel Meminger impresses Death at the passing of her little brother, when their mother is taking them to live with a couple near Munich. Liesel starts her book thieving graveside even though she can't read. Her foster father teaches her to read, and she continues her book stealing at a Nazi book burning, then at the Mayor's house. The story follows her experiences and relationships through the war.
What I thought? WARNING: Gushfest ahead. This book has won tons of awards, including the Printz Award, and rightfully so. From the first page, I was riveted. Death's voice is surprising and refreshing and compelling. I couldn't get enough. This is one of my new favorites. There is a lot of dark humor, as you might expect from Death, but there is also compassion and shock at the brutality of human nature. The best part to me was the unexpected imagery that Death uses to tell the story. He is lyrical. Who knew? I'm sure there will be those who don't like the way the book is written. It is very poetic, but those of you who love an impeccably wrought phrase will go nuts for this book like I did.
I have to give you a few examples of the writing so you can see what it is like. It's unlike anything I've read. If you like these. You will like the book. (These are from the beginning so they won't be spoilers.) This kind of thing (personification, unexpected images, lyrical descriptions, etc.) is on EVERY page. I thought there was no way that Markus Zusak could sustain the language, etc., but he did. When I found out that it took him 3 years to write this book. I just nodded. It would take at least that long.
On the first page, Death announces: "You are going to die." Death does not sugar coat. He, later, describes those left behind when he carries the souls of the dead away: "I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs."
Another section near the beginning of the book, when Death sees the book thief for the first time, gives you a nice example of the imagery:
A small soul was in my arms...
...I clearly remember that my breath was loud that day. I'm surprised the guards didn't notice me as they walked by. The world was sagging now, under the weight of all that snow.
Perhaps ten meters to my left, the pale, empty-stomached girl was standing, frost-stricken.
Her mouth jittered.
Her cold arms were folded.
Tears were frozen to the book thief's face.
As you would expect, this book has some serious tearjearker moments (Embarrassing moment: I was reading it while waiting for my daughter to finish a test in the public library downtown and just sat there sobbing as people looked at me like I was nuts. I should have known better than to read it in a public place.), but surprisingly not as many as you might think (and that's why I was lulled into a false sense of security that I was safe from the tears in public thing.). There is some serious humor as well.
My Rating: ***** + (I'm trying to contain myself these days.)
Cleanness Score: 7--There is a fair amount of language (not tons) often in German but translated afterward. There are scenes of the death and destruction of war as you would expect in a book about WWII. It is not for the very young. I think I'm going to wait to give it to my 14 year old until she is a little older. She is sensitive to the sadness of war, and I think this would be a bit much for her. It is for YA, but it can be very disturbing. I would keep it to your older YAs.
This book was a revelation to me of what can become popular. It achieved the recognition of "NY Times #1 Bestseller." It is so nice to know that this kind of artistic writing can achieve great success. Don't let the inevitable sadness contained in it keep you from reading it. I kept postponing reading it because I knew it would be sad. I've had it since Christmas. I could kick myself for waiting. It is so worth the teary moments.