Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

"I am haunted by humans."
--Death

I've been curious about this book for quite some time. I first noticed it in the book section at Target. I remember I picked it up to glance through it after the title caught my eye, but I don't remember why I decided against buying it at that point; probably because the blurb mentioned World War II. (It's a war book! Get out the garlic and the crucifix!) But I heard such good things about it from other bloggers. When I saw a copy in my local library last week, that sealed the deal. It was fate.

Death tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl living with foster parents on Himmel Street in Molching. At the age of ten, Liesel should know how to read, but she doesn't. Even so, books are already a treasure to her. It's as if she knows the role they will play in her future. So she steals books to add to her meager collection any time the opportunity presents itself.

During her years on Himmel Street, so many of Liesel's experiences are tainted by the war going on around her. Not surprisingly, her story has its share of sorrow. It's not a manipulative tearjerker, but even the heartless will find their eyes welling up at least once while reading this book. (I should know.) As Liesel slowly learns to read her cherished books, she reaps the understanding that words are powerful. Words can hurt and words can heal.

Speaking of words, Zusak had Death describing things in intriguing ways. He mixed up his senses. Things he saw had a scent, things he heard had a texture. I always like to come across fresh combinations of words, and these seemed fitting for a character who isn't human but spends quite a bit of time observing us.

This was another book that raised the question: is it YA or not? (It was first published in Australia for adults, but it has been marketed to young adults here in the US.) The format and the tone, to me, say it's YA. Not to mention that the main characters are young teenagers. But labeling this book as YA does not mean it's of lower quality, or that it softens the horrible reality of life in Nazi Germany. Anyway, I'm beginning to suspect some of the best books aren't written with the intention of being either YA or adult. Instead, they blur the line between the two categories, becoming a book that is both appropriate for younger readers and absorbing for adults.

14 comments:

Avid Reader said...

This is one of my all-time favorite books. The beauty of the language, the intimacy of the story, the raw emotions, it's just breathtaking. I'm so glad you loved it. I do agree that some of the best books blur the YA/adult line. I wonder if To Kill A Mockingbird would be considered a YA book if it was published now.

Kristi said...

I loved this book when I read it a few years ago. I actually like reading books about WWII--they fascinate me. I don't understand why it's marketed as a YA book. I thought that was really odd. The choice of death as the narrator was brilliant.

Marce said...

I have this one and will get to it one day. The war part turned me off also but the narration by death is completely intriguing. Also YA is not my favourite so glad to hear again that it is a great cross over.

mummazappa said...

This is one of my favourite books of all time, I loved Death's definitions, I found so many of them to be so touching. Personally I can't believe this is marketed as YA. Sure the narration has a naive tone to it, but I thought that was a reflection of the innocence of Death. I wonder what Markus Zusak thinks about it?

Kate said...

I've heard great things about this one... on the wishlist now!

I linked this in my Friday Five this week - have a great weekend!

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

This one has been on my TBR list for a while...our Spring Break is next week and I'm looking forward to getting some much needed reading and relaxing time :)

Love your backdrop ;)

Chris said...

I loved this book, it was very entertaining and original.

I don't see how it could be classed as young adult but if it gets young people reading it then I guess it doesn't matter.

Kathy said...

AR--that's a good question--I bet it would be marketed as YA these days!

Kristi--what other WWII books have you enjoyed? Do you think I would like them?

Marce--I think you will enjoy it! It's really not the sort of book that comes to mind when I think of YA.

Zap--the cynical side of me suspects that Zusak thinks whatever sells more books is great. ;)

Kate--thanks for linking me for the Friday Five! Always an honor!

Patti--enjoy your Spring Break. We have good taste in blog backdrops, don't we!

Chris--here is an interesting list of books that have appealed to the "young adult"--some (though not most) of the classics kind of surprised me. Anyway, I agree--whatever way people are convinced to read a book is fine by me.

Bellezza said...

I so agree with you about how the best books blur the lines...I mean, I can't exactly say Charlotte's Web is for children. It deals with lots of heavy subjects, death for example, not to mention parenting, besides friendship. Anyway, The Book Thief depressed me very much. I was so sad, am still sad, for those Death took. The Bastard.

Kathy said...

That last line made me giggle a little. But you're right, Death is a bastard. Although, in this book, not so much. He's just doing his job . . . I kind of sympathized with him.

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I loved this book - just had to finish it once I started it, and was totally captivated. It's so different, so well-written and so intriguing.

I do agree with your last comment about some books are just good books - it doesn't matter if it's stacked in the adult section or the young adult section. A good book is a good book.

Kathy said...

That is a good way of putting it--a good book is a good book! Definitely applies to this one.

julie yeggy said...

I actually asked Markus Zusak at a book signing at a high school what he thought about his book being marketed to young adults--he didn't seem to mind and told me the US was the only place that marketed it to young adults....He was so kind and respectful to the high school students, many of whom hadn't even read his book. If you ever get the chance to see him in person, he is a phenomenal speaker and storyteller. It's been over a year since I saw him and I still think of it often.....

Kathy said...

Julie--how cool that you got to meet Zusak, and that you had the answer to our question about what he thought of his book being marketed as YA! He sounds like a great guy.