“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 Fault in Our Stars”—A Book RAVE!

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“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” –Hazel Graze, a character in The Fault in Our Stars

^ That is exactly the way I feel about The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I just got finished REreading this book, yet again, and let me tell you…it only gets better.

Ever since I discovered the book Looking for Alaska in an Adolescent Literature course I took while attending college at LSU (Louisiana State University), I have been obsessed with anything written by John Green. Seriously, the man is a snarky nerd god! I am also still quite convinced that he should leave his wife and kid for me…just sayin’.

Up until The Fault in Our Stars came out a little over a year ago, Paper Towns was my favorite novel by John Green, but it can’t even hold a candle to his most recent literary marvel. I seriously don’t know how he does it, but he can take the crappiest subject in the world (childhood cancer) and somehow make you laugh about it…and not in an “I’m a horrible person because I’m laughing about adolescents having cancer” kind of way.

In The Fault in Our Stars, we follow sixteen-year-old Hazel (or Hazel Grace as Augustus Waters likes to refer to her), as she trudges on through life with the knowledge that she has terminal cancer, and will die soon…the successful “miracle” experimental medication she is on is basically just giving her a few more years until she “bites it.”

Having already gotten her GED, Hazel has become a complete shut-in, only venturing out a few hours a week to attend college classes at the local community college. But her mom is convinced that Hazel needs to get out more and live what life she has left to the fullest. It’s because of this that Hazel is forced to attend a youth Support Group in the basement of a church, which the Support Group leader refers to as “the heart of Jesus.”

It is in Support Group that Hazel meets Augustus. She is immediately taken by his good looks, and quickly becomes smitten with his snark and charm…the fact that he only has one “real” leg (the other taken by Osteosarcoma, doesn’t bother her at all—I mean, she has to wheel around an oxygen tank everywhere because her lungs suck at being lungs, thanks to the cancer nodes residing in them). But the fact that these kids have—or have had—cancer doesn’t mean that their since of humor is gone:

“We are literally in the heart of Jesus,” he said. “I thought we were in a church basement, but we are literally in the heart of Jesus.”

“Someone should tell Jesus,” I said. “I mean, it’s gotta be dangerous, storing children with cancer in your heart.”

 

It is with such wit that the book continues. Like, seriously, it will have you laughing out loud just about every other page (again, I reiterate the fact that John Green is a nerd god). And the book isn’t all puppies and unicorns farting rainbows—it actually does illuminate the crappiness of their circumstances. These kids do get extremely pissed about having cancer—and not just about how their cancer effects them, but their family and loved ones as well. They have horrible thoughts and meltdowns and tantrums, just like anybody would:

“There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.”

“I told Augustus the broad outline of my miracle: diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer when I was thirteen. (I didn’t tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.)It was, we were told, incurable.”

Just trust me when I say that you ABSOLUTELY cannot miss reading this book. For reals, your life will not be complete until you do. So do it, do it now!

This book, hands down, gets twenty-eight out of five stars!

 

“Okay?”

“Okay.”