Reviews for Book Thief
Booklist Reviews 2006 January #1
Gr. 10-12. Death is the narrator of this lengthy, powerful story of a town in Nazi Germany. He is a kindly, caring Death, overwhelmed by the souls he has to collect from people in the gas chambers, from soldiers on the battlefields, and from civilians killed in bombings. Death focuses on a young orphan, Liesl; her loving foster parents; the Jewish fugitive they are hiding; and a wild but gentle teen neighbor, Rudy, who defies the Hitler Youth and convinces Liesl to steal for fun. After Liesl learns to read, she steals books from everywhere. When she reads a book in the bomb shelter, even a Nazi woman is enthralled. Then the book thief writes her own story. There's too much commentary at the outset, and too much switching from past to present time, but as in Zusak's enthralling I Am the Messenger (2004), the astonishing characters, drawn without sentimentality, will grab readers. More than the overt message about the power of words, it's Liesl's confrontation with horrifying cruelty and her discovery of kindness in unexpected places that tell the heartbreaking truth. ((Reviewed January 1 & 15, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Fall
Death itself narrates this deeply affecting tale of young book lover Liesel, her loving foster parents, and the Jew hiding in their basement. They struggle, with their small, poor community, to endure the double-edged dangers of Nazi Germany. Zusak's poignant tribute to words, survival, and their inevitable entwinement is a tour de force to be not just read but inhabited. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #2
Death itself narrates this deeply affecting tale of "a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery." It is 1939 when nine-year-old Liesel, on her way to a foster home in Molching, Germany, steals a book -- the first she's ever owned -- from a graveyard. From then through 1943, her life is chronicled in books stolen (from Nazi book burnings; from the mayor's wife), books given (by her foster parents, irascible Rosa and kindly Hans Hubermann; by Max Vandenburg, the Jew hiding in their basement), and books written (her own story, finished in that basement during a devastating air raid). As her relationships and beliefs deepen, Liesel grows into a tough, earnest heroine, convincingly ordinary yet with an extraordinary capacity for caring. The small, poor town of Molching proves an effective microcosm for exploring the double-edged dangers faced by everyday Germans, and Zusak's gift for detail brings its streets and citizens richly to life. As a narrator, Death is startlingly, wrenchingly compassionate, struggling to turn away from the survivors left behind to live with "punctured hearts" and "beaten lungs" yet immeasurably moved by the tenderness they wring from despair -- Liesel building a snowman in the basement with Max; her best friend Rudy placing a teddy bear on the chest of a dying Allied pilot. Exquisitely written and memorably populated, Zusak's poignant tribute to words, survival, and their curiously inevitable entwinement is a tour de force to be not just read but inhabited. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 January #2
When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as "an attempt--a flying jump of an attempt--to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it." When her foster father helps her learn to read and she discovers the power of words, Liesel begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor's wife's library. As she becomes a better reader, she becomes a writer, writing a book about her life in such a miserable time. Liesel's experiences move Death to say, "I am haunted by humans." How could the human race be "so ugly and so glorious" at the same time? This big, expansive novel is a leisurely working out of fate, of seemingly chance encounters and events that ultimately touch, like dominoes as they collide. The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it's a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important. (Fiction. 12+) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 January #5
This hefty volume is an achievement--a challenging book in both length and subject, and best suited to sophisticated older readers. The narrator is Death himself, a companionable if sarcastic fellow, who travels the globe "handing souls to the conveyor belt of eternity." Death keeps plenty busy during the course of this WWII tale, even though Zusak (I Am the Messenger ) works in miniature, focusing on the lives of ordinary Germans in a small town outside Munich. Liesel Meminger, the book thief, is nine when she pockets The Gravedigger's Handbook , found in a snowy cemetery after her little brother's funeral. Liesel's father--a "Kommunist"--is already missing when her mother hands her into the care of the Hubermanns. Rosa Hubermann has a sharp tongue, but Hans has eyes "made of kindness." He helps Liesel overcome her nightmares by teaching her to read late at night. Hans is haunted himself, by the Jewish soldier who saved his life during WWI. His promise to repay that debt comes due when the man's son, Max, shows up on his doorstep. This "small story," as Death calls it, threads together gem-like scenes of the fates of families in this tight community, and is punctuated by Max's affecting, primitive artwork rendered on painted-over pages from Mein Kampf . Death also directly addresses readers in frequent asides; Zusak's playfulness with language leavens the horror and makes the theme even more resonant--words can save your life. As a storyteller, Death has a bad habit of forecasting ("I'm spoiling the ending," he admits halfway through his tale). It's a measure of how successfully Zusak has humanized these characters that even though we know they are doomed, it's no less devastating when Death finally reaches them. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) [Page 70]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2006 March
Gr 9 Up -Zusak has created a work that deserves the attention of sophisticated teen and adult readers. Death himself narrates the World War II-era story of Liesel Meminger from the time she is taken, at age nine, to live in Molching, Germany, with a foster family in a working-class neighborhood of tough kids, acid-tongued mothers, and loving fathers who earn their living by the work of their hands. The child arrives having just stolen her first book-although she has not yet learned how to read-and her foster father uses it, The Gravedigger's Handbook , to lull her to sleep when she's roused by regular nightmares about her younger brother's death. Across the ensuing years of the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Liesel collects more stolen books as well as a peculiar set of friends: the boy Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, the mayor's reclusive wife (who has a whole library from which she allows Liesel to steal), and especially her foster parents. Zusak not only creates a mesmerizing and original story but also writes with poetic syntax, causing readers to deliberate over phrases and lines, even as the action impels them forward. Death is not a sentimental storyteller, but he does attend to an array of satisfying details, giving Liesel's story all the nuances of chance, folly, and fulfilled expectation that it deserves. An extraordinary narrative.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA [Page 234]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2006 June
Liesel Meminger is nine years old and on her way to live with a foster family in Munich when her brother dies. As he is buried in snow-packed ground in the middle of nowhere, Liesel spots a small book that falls from the gravedigger's pocket. Thus begins her new life, her career as a book thief, and a love affair with words that will eventually save her life. Feeling numb and terrified, Liesel arrives at her new home clinging to the memory of her brother and to this small book. It is 1939 in Nazi Germany. Liesel's heartbreaking story unfolds through the narration of a surprisingly affable Death. Liesel spends her days reading with Papa, playing with her friend Rudy, and carrying with her the secret about the Jewish man in her basement. Death spends his days going about this job in a compassionate yet detached manner, collecting departed souls and marveling over humanity. His path intersects with Liesel's three times. She makes a profound impression on him, and he carries her words with him everywhere he goes. Zusak brilliantly weaves together many strands of stories, creating a gripping and tragic narrative. The outcome of much of the story is no secret, thanks to Death's propensity to get ahead of himself and inform readers what happens, but it is nonetheless upsetting and affecting. Death admits to being haunted by humans; Zusak's exquisite tale will haunt readers long after its pages are over.-Amanda MacGregor PLB $18.99. ISBN 0-375-93100-7. 5Q 4P J S Copyright 2006 Voya Reviews.