Oh. My. Gosh. This is an amazing book. Just amazing. I don’t think I’ve had such an emotional reaction to a story since my first reading of Where the Red Fern Grows, and that was about 35 years ago.
Our narrator, Death, wastes no time slashing us with his beautifully sharp words. He meets Liesel while taking away the soul of her poor dead little brother as they travel with their mother on a train. Their mother was taking her children to live with foster parents after something happened to their (possibly) communist father in Nazi Germany. We get to watch Liesel as she comes of age during that horrible time. We see her laugh, steal, cry, and love. And we see her grieve.
The novel is about death and war, but it is the themes of family and friendship that will make it a story I won’t forget. After Liesel loses her brother her mother abandons her in a house where Rosa, her foster mother, a gruff bear of a woman, terrifies the child. When Rosa demanded that Liesel call her “Mama” I was outraged. Then Hans, the foster father, stepped in, and there was hope. Later, Max, the apologetic Jew, comes to live in the basement for a time. And then there is Rudy. Always poor Rudy, who painted himself black in 1936 to be like American athlete Jessie Owens. I came to care for all of them as much as Liesel — and Death — did as her story unfolds.
Since I listened to this in audio format, I have to say something about the narrator. Allan Corduner does an excellent job giving voice to Death. His accent is very pleasant and he articulates nicely. Most importantly, the anguish he pours into Markus Zusak’s words comes across as absolutely genuine.
This may be the best book I’ve read this year. I definitely recommend it.