This book is really brilliant. I was taken with it from the opening pages, in which you discover that the narrator is Death. Death with an ironic sense of humor, Death who longs for a vacation “somewhere tropical, or of the ski trip variety.” Death, who meets the girl known as the book thief on three different occasions before he finally comes for her soul.
The book thief is Liesel Meminger, a girl who has already known hardship when at age 9 she comes to live with foster parents Rosa and Hans Hubermann in a suburb of
Hiding Max gives the Hubermanns a purpose, a means by which they can defy Hitler. Acts of defiance (both large and small) play a big role in Liesel and Hans’s relationship. Stealing books is another way that Liesel can defy authority and gain a sense of control over her life. Liesel’s partner in crime is her friend Rudy, who is himself a rebel; he is fierce in his refusal to submit to the abuse he suffers at the hands of his Hitler Youth leaders, and is loyal to his idol, the American Olympic runner Jesse Owens.
What does Death have to say about all this? A lot. His asides pepper the chapters with wit and astringency. But while Death can be funny, this story is sad. These people have really hard lives and things don’t work out so well for many of them. Zusak very effectively makes you feel the grinding poverty and desperation, the hopelessness, and the fear his characters experience. His voice is highly original and compelling, and despite the pervasive sadness this is a beautiful book.
(Book 7, 2008)