“The Book Thief”—A Book Review

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a remarkable tale. Set in Germany during the Holocaust, this story is narrated by Death. Yes, I’m talking about the Grim Reaper himself. You can only imagine the things he has witnessed.

 

“It’s probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler’s reign, no person was able to serve the Fuhrer as loyally as me. “

“I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling amount the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs.”

 

At the beginning of the story, Death meets a little girl named Liesel. She is on her way to live with a foster family outside of Munich, because her mother can no longer adequately care for her. Death becomes enraptured by this little girl, and (even though he shouldn’t) he begins to follow her.

Liesel is a child growing up in the midst of a world war. Times are tough, money and food are scant. What initially draws Death to Liesel is her book thievery. Liesel was very poorly educated upon arriving in Munich, and her foster father, known to the girl as “papa”, takes the time out every night when Liesel awakens from her usual plaguing nightmares, to read to her and teach her to read and write properly.

As you can guess, throughout the book the war progresses, as do the hardships Liesel must come to bare. Liesel is forced to join Hitler Youth, and be a “good little German girl.” But what happens if you don’t agree with what Hitler says?

The answer is: You keep quiet about it.

Many of the characters in this story completely disagree with Hitler’s message and agenda, but they say nothing out of fear. Because to reveal anything other than complete compliance is basically suicide. You would be publically shamed and taken away from your family. Submission was the key to survival.

At one point, Liesel’s foster family ends up harboring a Jew, because of a long ago promise and a debt to be paid. This is an extremely dangerous act of courage. If the family is caught with a Jew in their basement, the outcome isn’t even imaginable.

“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.”

The one thing that Liesel has found to keep her going is reading. It is through books that she learns to build self confidence, imagination, and find an escape from the horrible times. But the thing is, in 1940s Germany, books aren’t easy to come by. Most everyone has lost their job and rations are limited, making things like books nearly impossible to acquire.  

The solution? To steal them. Now, Liesel doesn’t go on some rampant stealing spree, taking everything she can get her hands on. In fact, the acts of stealing are far and few between. She only takes a book after she has read one in its entirety.

“As Liesel would discover, a good thief requires many things. Stealth. Nerve. Speed. More important than any of those things, however, was one final requirement. Luck.”

As the story continues, you are not only shown Liesel’s life, but Death describes to you the pitfalls of his job. For during a war, deaths are plentiful.

“They say that war is death’s best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly: “Get it done, get it done.” So you work harder. You get the job done. The boss however, does not thank you. He asks for more.” 

Through the eyes of the narrator, you will see that the war was not only difficult for the humans that had to endure it, but for Death as well. Witnessing firsthand the destruction Hitler caused, Death so desperately wanted a new hope—a hope that humans had a purpose and were capable of something other than causing another’s demise.

“Prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.”

It is through following Liesel that his faith in human kind is constantly restored.

“That’s the sort of thing I’ll never know, or comprehend—what humans are capable of.”

 

I have to tell you, while reading this novel, all I could think was, “As much crap as I have to deal with and suffer through in my life, at least I didn’t have to live through that.” The way the life of a Jew was painted was truly heartbreaking, for they were made to feel like they didn’t even deserve to be alive. Their lives weren’t worth the jeopardy they put the people hiding them in. Many often had the mindset of, “Why do I deserve to be the one who got away?”

To be made to feel like you are so insignificant of a specimen that you aren’t even worth trying to save is a thought that nearly brings me to my knees. And you can barely even call the conditions they endured “living.”  And all of this brought on from the thoughts and words on one horrible human being.

I give this tale four out of five stars. This definitely isn’t a read that can be rushed through. It’s a long narrative, but it definitely makes you think.

“The darkest minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces.”

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The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken was an exceptional YA read. This novel will keep your mind grasping at straws, and your eyeballs devouring the words on the page.

 A disease called IAAN has swept across America, killing children starting at the age of ten on through puberty. All of a sudden, young children are literally just dropping dead. But it’s not the dead kids the adults fear—it’s the kids who live. The kids that survive the disease have varying mind powers and, as always, grownups fear what they can’t explain. They have labeled the remaining kids as Psi and they are rounded up and shipped off to “rehabilitation camps.”

 

“Abilities. Powers that defied explanation, mental talents so freakish, doctors and scientists reclassified our entire generation as Psi. We were no longer human. Our brains broke that mold.”

 

These rehabilitation camps, however, are more like Jewish concentration camps. Kids are herded into a classifying colored group based on what ability they posses: Blue=telekinetic, Green=sorters, good at math, photographic memories, Yellow=control electricity, Red=fire, Orange=the most dangerous of all…the ability to enter and control your mind.  

Thus, our main Character Ruby was taken and placed in a camp the day after her tenth birthday. She is labeled as a Green, but she has a secret…she was wrongly sorted. The day of her tenth birthday, she did the unthinkable—she erased herself from her parents’ minds. It was an accident, and she didn’t know that she was doing it, but her parents freaked nonetheless when they woke up to a strange little girl in their house that they had no recollection of. And poor Ruby had no idea what she had done; but still, the PSF’s (Psi Special Forces) promptly came and took her away.

When Ruby manages to make the doctor at the camp sorting her believe that she is a Green, she gets placed with the other Green girls at camp. Eventually the Oranges, Yellows, and Reds disappear…they are too dangerous to have around, for not all Psi kids are good and innocent. There have been many incidents of Reds setting fires, Yellows blowing things up, and Oranges convincing the PSFs to open fire on their comrades.

 Ruby, like all of the other children of her generation hates her life, and wishes more than anything that it’s just one big nightmare—but knowing deep down that it isn’t. This is her life now. But, one day while slaving away in the fields of the “self-sufficient” camp Ruby works at, the Calm Control goes off (a sort of dog whistle white noise that only Psi kids can hear), but this time it’s painful effects are worse than usual, debilitating her completely.

With the help of an odd source, Ruby manages to escape and eventually ends up with a ragtag group of kids who have also managed to escape the confines of camp. There’s Zu, a mute eleven-year-old Yellow girl, Charles “Chubs”, a studious and very cynical Blue, and Liam, the kind-hearted leader, with the purest soul, also a Blue.

These four escapees are on a mission to find the Slip Kid, who is said to help other Psi kids get in touch with their parents (for not everyone’s parents flipped out and thought of their kids as monsters, wanting them sent far away from them). Sticking together, avoiding Skip Tracers (bounty-hunters, basically) and PSFs who will do anything to capture all kids and throw them into a camp, this team forms a special bond, slowly learning how to live again. And more importantly, to believe that living is actually worth the effort. That they are worth it.

 

“It doesn’t make you a bad person, you know—to want to live your own life.”

“My mom said once that education was a privilege not afforded to everyone, but she was wrong—it wasn’t a privilege. It was our right. We had the right to a future.”

“Maybe nothing will ever change for us,” he said. “But don’t you want to be around just in case it does?”

 

This tumultuous adventure will have you digging into your soul and questioning the basic rights of a human being—no matter how young or small—and analyzing the irrational behaviors fear can induce. What it must be like to be a young child and have your own parents, the people who are supposed to be there for you no matter what, look at you like you are some kind of monstrous creature. And even worse, to have to face the own darkening thoughts in your own head as a cast aside of not knowing how to control your powers: “They weren’t afraid of themselves; they weren’t crippled by the weight of what they didn’t know.”

This harrowing story receives five out of five stars from me! The sequel, The Never Fade is set to be released in late October, and I cannot wait!

“Between Shades of Gray”—A Book Review

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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a hauntingly beautiful tale that shows a different side of the Holocaust.

Lina is a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl, whose world is thrown upside down the night Soviet officers march into her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father, Lina, her mother, and her young brother, are shoved into train cars like cattle, and shipped to a Siberian work camp.

Trying not to lose herself, Lina keeps what little of herself she has left (that hasn’t been stripped away by the work camp officers) by drawing. She has always loved art and makes drawings, leaving tiny clues within the pictures, secretly passing them along, hoping they will make it back to her father.

Life in the camps put Lina and her family through many trials, their character literally being stamped out of them under Soviet boots. You will find yourself rooting for Lina throughout the narrative, praying she will make it out of this ordeal with a strong since of self.

Between Shades of Gray is an astounding read, shedding light on a different side to the Holocaust than the one we are taught in history class, and helping to open our eyes to the fact that it wasn’t only the Jews who were prosecuted and thrown in concentration camps. This story reminds you how to hope.

I give this book five out of five stars.