Monday, January 22, 2007

The Book Thief

Zusak, Markus. 2006. THE BOOK THIEF. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375831002 [Suggested Grade Levels 7-12]

Death begins this first-person novel ruminating on the beauty of colors and how powerfully they affect his existence and ours: “At some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away . . . The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you?” It is a gorgeous introduction with much teasing about the story to come: the book thief, a nine-year-old girl who cannot yet read. Liesel Meminger is traveling to Berlin with her mother and her brother who dies on the train. Her mother abandons her. In spite of her despair, she is fortunate to be placed with the Hubermamanns who provide her with love and teach her to read.

Zusak invents realistic characters that grow and change and break your heart. Each character is handled with love, insight, and Death’s foreboding. His world is filled with people who inspire hate, empathy, and dread. Knowing World War II Germany adds to the intimacy and impact of our read.

Zusak’s most amazing feat of all, however, is the way he manipulates language. He writes each sentence as if it carries the weight of the story itself. A novel made up of elegant sentences is the perfect vessel to explore the redemptive nature of literature and reading. Death reveals that he is haunted by humans, as we will be haunted by this astounding novel.

Invite teens to discuss whether Death’s narration helped or hindered the reading of the novel.

Connect with the classic Ray Bradbury novel about book burning, FAHRENHEIT 451.

By the same author:
Zusak, Markus. I AM THE MESSENGER. ISBN 0375830995.

By Cay Geisler

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