when I read it in 2007, when I talked about books that made me cry, and when I said it needed its own blog post (this one).
So now that I'm finally writing a review of The Book Thief, what do I say? Well, it was kind of weird and be sure to give it fifty pages before you give up on it, and did I mention that it's narrated by Death? But people, it is no longer adequate to say that I merely love this book. I more than love this book. I read it for the second time a few months ago and solidified its place on the short list of my all-time favorites.
The reason I read it for a second time is because I had started to wonder if it really was as brilliant as I remembered. Some people whose opinions I respect had read it and given it a 'meh' review. When I re-read it and loved it more than ever, I was confused. Were they wrong? Was I wrong?
Then I realized that this is not the kind of book that can be loved by everyone. It seems to me that the "narrated by Death" issue (some would call it a gimmick) is a stumbling block. You either embrace him in that role and go with it, or you are jarred out of the story every time he calls attention to himself, which is often, because he's narrating. Personally, I thought having Death as a narrator was brilliant. It lent depth and humanity to what would otherwise have been only a moderately moving story, unusual perhaps for being told from the German point of view, but nothing more.
I read somewhere that out of all the characters he's written, the author had the hardest time saying goodbye to the people in this book. That's how I feel, too - from time to time I think about them as if they actually existed. I think about the choices they made and the lives they lived and what I might have done had I been in their shoes. I have images from the book in my mind that are almost like real memories of real events, so profoundly did they affect me. I had thought I had read every kind of World War II/Holocaust book there is out there, but The Book Thief is so novel, so genuine, so different.
So I understand if you've read this book and you didn't really like it. That's fine. But if you haven't read it, or you want to give it a second chance (as my dad did, and he can correct me if I'm wrong but I think he liked it more on a second reading), please do. I hope you will find it is the same beautiful, life-affirming book I love so much.
(One last note of interest: in its native Australia, The Book Thief was released as regular old adult fiction. No Young Adult about it. In the US, it is a YA title (and won the YA Printz Award). When I read it for the second time, I paid particular attention to what, specifically, might make this a YA book. And I didn't find anything. In fact, several attributes of The Book Thief recommend it to the adult category of fiction, namely its length, subject matter, complexity, and amount of German swearing. The only thing that puts it even remotely in the YA category is the age of its protagonists. Go figure.)