“He was the crazy one who had painted himself black and defeated the world.
She was the book thief without the words.
Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.”
I think it’s most appropriate to start off my very first YA book review with one of my all-time favorite YA books: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. If you’re looking for good books for young adults, whether as an introduction to this genre or because you need more recommendations, then this is one that I’ll recommend to absolutely anyone and everyone. Even now as I’m writing this, I get teary-eyed remembering the story, the words, and the characters of the world that Markus Zusak has created, and it’s one of those books that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last line. Definitely one of the best young adult books I’ve ever read.
Set in Germany during World War II, The Book Thief follows the story of young Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living in the outskirts of Munich. Liesel is a thief, and one day she steals something that she absolutely can’t resist: books. Her foster father teaches her to read, and she shares these stolen books to her neighbors and the Jewish man they hide in their basement. Oh, and there’s that boy Rudy Steiner, who wants to be the fastest runner in the world and who quite possibly must be in love with Liesel, and who Liesel quite possibly also loves back.
One of my favorite things about this book is the prose: it’s simple and poetic and wrings my heart in all the right places. I can’t possibly quote the entire book (because really, I loved almost every single line) but here are a few choice quotes:
“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.”
“One was a book thief. The other stole the sky.”
“Rudy Steiner was scared of the book thief’s kiss. He must have longed for it so much. He must have loved her so incredibly hard. So hard that he would never ask for her lips again and would go to his grave without them.”
Guh. Every chosen word strikes a chord and every sentence is woven just right to tug at something inside me; simple prose that moves me is my favorite kind, and The Book Thief has these in droves.
Another thing I loved about this book is that it’s written with a unique perspective: the entire time you’re inside the mind of Death, the narrator. And yes, I do mean Death himself (or herself, but just for this review we’ll refer to Death as a “he”), as in the entity we meet when we’re about to die (or so they say).
What’s great about Zusak’s version of Death is that he feels just as much as we do. He’s hurt, he’s inspired, he can be sad and care for the people he’s to send to the afterlife. At the same time, though, there’s something about him that’s old and ancient, and several times there’s the feeling that he bears something that we will never understand unless we ourselves are Death. He’s seen a lot of deaths over the years, and he narrates them like the old, immortal being that he is. And I love that, that ancient beings have the capacity to feel in a way that we sometimes understand and sometimes don’t.
Because it’s narrated in Death’s perspective, who dies and who lives are pretty much spelled out for you close to the beginning of the book, but I still continued on reading, because for me it wasn’t about who lives or who dies, but the story in between. And it is indeed a beautiful, heartbreaking story. Liesel who finds meaning in her life by stealing books, Rudy who wants to run like the wind, Liesel’s German foster parents, a strict mother and pipe-playing father, who hide a Jewish man in their basement, and the woman who allows Liesel into her library: all of these characters have their own stories, are fleshed out so well, and I cared for every single one of them so that when the book reached its end, I had been dissolved into an ugly, crying mess.
There’s really so many wonderful things about this book that I feel I can’t possibly do justice to it no matter how long or short I make this review. All I can really say is please, please do read it; it’s been in so many young adult books best sellers lists for a good reason. You will laugh and cry and your heart will break and you will be filled with hope, and you might quite possibly be changed by this book. I’m sure all of that happened to me, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot and understand more about writing and about characters after reading this, and how the best books are the ones that make an impact on you even years after you read it. And this book sure as hell did.
And so I end this review with the following words, again quoted from the book:
“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
My rating: (5 / 5)