Another YA novel! It didn’t really register with me that this was Young Adult, but since the main character is only 10, it stands to reason.
Narrated by Death, the story follows 10 year old Liesel from when her mother brings her to live with Hans and Rose Hubermann to the end of World War II.
The story takes place in Germany. On the way to her foster parents, Liesel’s brother dies. Liesel is then left with her foster parents, the foul-mouthed Rosa and gentle, caring Hans. She keeps having nightmares about her brother and Hans sits with her through the night and comforts her. Later, when it becomes apparent that Liesel is struggling with reading and writing, they use the time at night for studying, with Liesel trying to read and writing out the difficult words in paint on the walls in the basement.
Liesel starts to love reading and from time to time she steals books. Important events in her life are marked by books and reading, such as her reading to calm the people in the bomb shelter during air raids and the stories Max, the Jew hidden in the Hubermann’s basement, wrote for her.
Naturally the book touches upon the horrors of World War II, and considering it is a YA book, it does not get sugar-coated too much. There is plenty of death and pain and fear and suffering in the book, which I think is good. I also think it is a good change to see how the ordinary German people fared during the war. Not much attention is given to that side of the story when there were plenty of Germans who didn’t agree with what Hitler did and either openly rebelled or only participated in things like Hitler Youth because of the trouble you would get into if you didn’t.
So…what did I think about this book? I couldn’t put the book down, I thought it was very good. Very well-written and the fact that it is narrated by Death is a nice twist. It definitely made me cry, especially at the end. I thought that the author was successful at avoiding black and white characters: sure, Hans Hubermann is the ultimate good-guy, but there are other more “grey” characters in the book. The only part I thought was very unbelievable *SPOILER ALERT* was when Liesel meets Max after the war. With his poor health there was no way he would have been able to survive the concentration camp. He would have died there within the week. I understand the author wanted to end the book on a bit of a positive note – if everyone had died it would have been a very bleak book – but Max was the least likely to have survived.
Overall quite a good book. I was excited to hear that there is also a movie based on the book now, but the reviews sound absolutely awful, so I doubt I am going to watch it.