"I am haunted by humans."
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.