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Historical Fiction Review – The Book Thief


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak


Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)


I read a lot of book reviews, and talk with a lot of people about books. I love recommendations, because it’s a wonderful way to find new authors or wonderful stories. However, I have had the experience (more than once, I might add) of hearing such amazing reviews of a book, that by the time I read it, this allegedly wonderful book isn’t quite so wonderful, and it becomes a letdown for me. I allow myself to have such high expectations that I am seriously disappointed. And I hate it when that happens.

Back in 2005, I began hearing some buzz over a book called “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. I read glowing reviews; a couple of friends read the book and couldn’t say enough about it. And then, it was named a Printz Honor Book. The Printz Award is given every year for the best books written for young adults. There is a winner, and anywhere from one to three honor books named every January.

I finally decided to try the Book Thief, but I had serious reservations. Too much good stuff was circulating about this novel! I went in prepared to be letdown…but I was pleasantly surprised.

The Book Thief begins with an introduction to our narrator…Death. He says, “Here is a small fact. You are going to die…does this worry you? I urge you—don’t be afraid. I’m nothing if not fair.” Death meets nine-year-old Liesel when he comes for her younger brother on a cold, snowy day. He made what he called an “elementary mistake. I became interested. In the girl. Curiosity got the better of me…” especially when he saw Liesel steal her first book, a copy of The Gravedigger’s Handbook.

Liesel’s mother leaves her with a foster family in Munich, Germany; Hans who plays the accordion and teaches Liesel to read using her only book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and his wife Rosa, whom Death describes as having a face decorated with constant fury. Liesel adapts to her new life, making friends with other children in the neighborhood. But it is the man Max, the Jew that Hans and Rosa hide in their basement, who has such a profound effect on Liesel. At a time when people must be cautious, must watch what they do, what they say, and to whom they speak, Liesel grows into a young woman who learns survival skills she never dreamed she would need.

And stealing books is the theme in this novel. Liesel steals again; she picks a scorched book out of a pile the Nazis are burning, and hides it until she can get home and safely examine it. She meets the mayor’s wife, a sad woman with a mystery of her own. Liesel’s first visit to the mayor’s home results in finding the mayor’s personal library. Liesel steals another book, and with the mayor’s wife giving her unspoken permission, she continues to visit and steal books. For reading has become a distraction for Liesel, an escape from the world of Nazi Germany, which grows more frightening and uncertain with every passing day. Death becomes a presence in Liesel’s life; he observes her with an interest that both puzzles and fascinates him. Death confesses to us, the readers, “I am haunted by humans.”

As I was reading The Book Thief, I kept thinking, “Well, this is okay. It’s not a BAD book, it’s just not one to gush over, either.” But by the time I finished all 550 pages, I was hooked. This novel had worked its way into my heart and my mind to such an extent that I was sorry to see it end. It’s an incredible story, and one I would recommend to older teens and adults.





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5 Responses to “Historical Fiction Review – The Book Thief”

  1. Karen H. (warbler43) says:

    Well, with that glowing review, I just have to get my name in the hat for the drawing.

  2. Mary S says:

    Great review- loved this book also!

  3. Marta R. (marta73) says:

    I love to find a book to order then check out the member’s bookshelf! I cannot tell you how many books I would never have discovered otherwise–books that are often even better than the one I was originally ordering. It seems that those who have a book I want also have tastes in books that I share. I must have 5,000 books in my house and try my best to do some “editing” by placing some on PBS frequently, but I admit that I always am requesting more books than I am sending out. Not the worst problem to have in life.

  4. Catherine P. (justice9311) says:

    This review has prompted me to pull this book off of my shelf and finally give it a try. Thanks so much for taking the time to give an honest review.

  5. Shari F. says:

    I would love a copy of this for my class library!

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