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The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Posted by Sherry on 10/22/2006 in 20th Century History Project, General, World War II |

This was an odd book, so odd that I probably wouldn’t have managed to get very far into it if it hadn’t been recommended so highly by so many people. I’m a straightforward, A-Z, kind of gal. Give me a story that starts out “Once upon a time” and ends with “happily ever after.” Or not happily. Tragedy is OK, too. But I like it straight and plain-spoken, or maybe poetic, but not a strange, episodic story narrated by the Grim Reaper himself.

Except I did like The Book Thief, so I’m confused. The book starts out with this comforting announcement:

* * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *
You are going to die.

It ends with Death Himself beng confused and “haunted by humans.”

So, make what you will of that, and decide whether or not you want to read an odd book about Death and the Holocaust and World War II and bombs and Germany with lots of cursing, mostly in German, and lots of the aforementioned death, mostly of everybody in the book. It sounds depressing, but it’s not really. It is gritty and the tiniest bit hopeful, but not too. I can’t decide if kids will like it or not. I don’t think my kids would care for it. But some might. Or this might be the sort of book that will win lots of awards because it’s written in a different, literary sort of way and it’s about a Serious Subject, but it’s mostly loved by librarians and teachers. I can see high school teachers assigning this book in literature classes or history classes.

If I sound ambivalent, it’s because I am. Help? Someone else tell me now that I’ve read it why it was that you liked it so much.

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10 Comments

  • Oh, this has been on my list on for a while. Your review makes me feel the same way you describe. Read it? Don’t read it? Hmmmmm.

  • Carrie K. says:

    I have this sitting on my book shelf – I will definitely be reading it, just because of all the interesting/ambivalent reviews I’ve read. Have to see for myself.

  • Semicolon says:

    […] Hornbook Fanfare List: Best (Children’s) Books of 2006. Of these I read The Book Thief (Semicolon Ambivalent Review here), but I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. A few of the others sound intriguing. […]

  • Diana says:

    My 12 yo daughter loved this book, could not put it down and was oblivious to conversation around her while reading. My 10 yo son started it, wrinkled his nose and said it was “weird” and that he didn’t want to continue. But your review now makes me want to see which kid I agree with…

  • Semicolon says:

    […] This peculiar tale reminded me of Scheherezade in 1001 Nights and of last year’s other Death Personified story, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. I told the Eldest the bare outline of the plot, and she immediately said, “Chaucer’s already used that plot device.” Indeed, Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale does have three drunken men go into the forest to meet and conquer Death. And then there’s the flavor in the story, if not the humor, of The Princess Bride. […]

  • Brittany says:

    I teach high school reading (11th and 12th) My students are so confused. I had to read with each group in order to get them through some of the confusion. They are struggling to keep going. Any suggestions?

  • Sherry says:

    Brittany: I’m not sure what to say. I really didn’t love the book that much, and I think that assigning it to high school students is dicey at the very least. Some of them might like it, but I would guess that most won’t.

  • Zoë says:

    It seems that many adults have their opinions here, talking about what their kids think. I am 13, and I got this book when I was about 9 or 10. I loved it then, and every time I’ve read it I’ve understood more and loved it even more. Actually, my friends, who are also 13, have thought of it as wierd, even though they’ve only read the back cover. I just wanted to add a positive note, as this is my favorite book I’ve ever read.

  • […] I didn’t enjoy this book as much. The narrator was . . . odd. (It must be the week for odd. See this review of The Book Thief.) Christopher Banks, the aforementioned narrator, is such a distinctive personality that it is hard […]

  • […] Blue by Joyce Meyer Hostetter. Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. Jimmy’s Stars by Mary Ann Rodman The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata The Fences Between Us: The […]

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