I was so completely, totally blown away by this amazing, moving, wonderful, sad, beautiful book that I'm almost afraid to attempt to review it. But, I'll try. If nothing else, I'm willing to face up to the challenge of attempting to lash my thoughts into some reasonable facsimile of sense, especially if I can persuade others to read this astonishing book.
The Book Thief, set in Nazi Germany during the years of WWII, is narrated by Death and germinates from his fascination with a girl named Liesel Meminger, the "book thief" of the title. Her first theft is a strange one; she is unable to read but feels as if she's salvaging a memory by clinging to the little blue book. When Liesel learns to decipher the language within books, with the help of her "papa", she grows to find solace in words.
There's so much more to it than just Liesel and her books. The author has taken a group of people--those who live with and around Liesel on Himmel Street in a small town on the outskirts of Munich--and made them so believable that they almost seem tangible. Very seldom have I felt such sympathy and attachment to a group of characters, in spite of their negative qualities.
The book is billed as a Young Adult title, which strikes me as a little odd given the subject matter and the depth of characterization, the strength of its emotional impact, and even its length (my copy is 550 pages long). The publishers could easily end up chopping their own profits off at the knees by marketing the book toward a younger audience. However, the YA designation may be based on the fact that Zusak is already well-established as a Young Adult author in Australia.
Certainly, it seems like a very adult book. And, yet, I can visualize The Book Thief in the hands of my 14-year-old and imagine the discussions that could be generated in a classroom setting. The Book Thief is a thought-provoking book, full of stunning imagery and, in my opinion, technically perfect with not the slightest deviation in tone. It's worth talking about, passing around, setting up on the good shelves for a future reread; and it has just rocketed to the top of my list of best books read in 2006.