The Plot: I usually write this up myself, but couldn't do it justice. So I borrow from the Book Description provided by the publisher:
The Good: It's narrated by Death, so of course it has an interesting voice. A friend of mine, Maria, was recommending this book, and was asked, "yes, but does anyone die in it?" and Maria replied "It's about World War II. Several main characters die." This is not a spoiler; Death himself is very clear on this point: "You are going to die."
It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .
Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
Because until there's a cure for death, it's going to happen to everyone. Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime.
But still... the death here is overwhelming. As it should be, in a story about war. In a story about life.
But let's concentrate on something other than death; because as Maria explained, "it's moving and really life affirming."
Sometimes the only way to value life is to be reminded just how fragile it is. In that way, this reminded me of Six Feet Under.
But on to the book:
Liesel's foster father is Hans Huberman; and let me say, how nice it was to have a father figure who is a truly good man. Not a molester or monster or pedophile, but a good, kind man; maybe not very rich; maybe coarse; but good. Rosa, the mother, is almost more complex than Hans; someone who on the surface would be labelled as abusive, but is a caring woman who does not express it in the words we use today, but shows it again and again in her actions. And Liesel and Hans understand this about Rosa.
There is no romance of childhood; no looking down at adulthood; it is also astonishing, in the way it portrays what would today be called abusive parents, as loving parents. Most modern books would equate Rosa's roughness and hitting with no love; would equate it with hate; would say that only one type of parental love is acceptable. TBL recognizes seeing where love is, in all its many places, both pretty and rough, expected and unexpected, rather than insisting love come in only one flavor, one emotion, one thought.
Rosa Huberman loves; loves without words; and gives Liesl a gift of love and happiness. Even tho it is all unspoken.
There's been some debate as to whether this is truly a YA book or an adult book. I say adult, because rather than being in the time of childhood, it's a look back with adult knowledge, wisdom, and nostalgia: "She even allowed herself a laugh. Eleven year old paranoia was powerful. Eleven year old relief was euphoria." and "I think that's as close to love as eleven year olds can get." Perhaps this is because Death is telling the story and death is clearly an adult (compare to Love Curse of the Rumbaughs; even tho the narrator there tells the story, when she speaks of the past she sees and speaks and comments as a child or a teen; not so, here it is always Death.)
But, it could also be YA; Death is the narrator and many teens have such a flirtation with the idea of death. (Yes; look at the recent flurry of books such as A Certain Slant of Light and Elsewhere that tell the story of death). As I read this I couldn't help but remember, Darkling I listen; and, for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death, Call'd him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,To take into the air my quiet breath. This fascination with Death makes it very much a book with teen appeal.
Oh, and another thing: I prefer the Australian cover.
I have to give more quotes because I love the writing:
"Even death has a heart."
"He died in a train. They buried him in the snow."
"Stealing it, on the other hand, seemed a little more acceptable."
"Liesl was exercising the blatant right of every person who's ever belonged to a family. It's all very well for such a person to whine and moan and criticize other family members, but they won't let anyone else do it. That's when you get your back up and show loyalty."
"Her whole death was now ahead of her."
And Rudy. I write this review months after the book is over, this fiction book about not real people, and my heart breaks for Rudy all over again. "He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It's his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cry."
"I am haunted by humans."
Needless to say...it's one of my Best Books.