The first time Death met Liesel Meminger, the book thief, she was on a train with her mother and her little brother, traveling to a foster home near Munich where the children could escape the shadow of their father’s identity as a Kommunist. It was the little brother’s soul that Death had come to collect. As he cradled the little boy’s soul in his arms and watched the living grieve, Death did not know that he would meet the book thief two more times during her childhood, nor that he would find her journal in the wreckage of a bomb-torn city and would read it again and again, memorizing her story and always carrying it with him. He shares Liesel’s story with the readers in his own way–recounting the mischief she concocts with Rudy Steiner, the complicated but ultimately loving relationships in her foster family, the struggle of learning to read, poverty and hunger in the Third Reich, the terrifying business of hiding a Jew and the powerful friendship that results from it, the complex intertwining of patriotism, loyalty, and morality–all over-layed with Death’s observations of the tragedy of war and the enduring hope and beauty of life.
Ultimately, it is the words—of the author, of the characters, of the past—that bring the story to life so vibrantly and unforgettably. This is a book to be savored. It is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. There are no real plot twists; Death tells you the ending at the beginning. The book is about the journey of the characters and their complex, beautiful relationships. Zusak does not neglect even the minor characters, making them all irresistibly complicated and human. I warn you, you will fall in love with characters in this book, and their stories will stay with you–as they did for the narrator, Death. Your heart will likely break at some of the tragedies they endure. But it is worth it for the journey you share with them, just as Death demonstrates that even the shortest lives captured in Liesel’s journal have profound and enduring beauty and meaning. The Book Thief has been my Favorite Book Of All Time since I first read it in 2006, and it will take an extraordinary book to ever supplant it in my affection. I cannot recommend it highly enough for teens and for adults.