Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Death has touched Liesel Meminger. Our first image of her is when the nine-year-old girl stands in the snow next to her dead brother. And so the narrator comes calling, because the narrator is death himself.

Liesel steals her first book that night, the "Gravediggers Handbook" belonging to the worker who will bury her brother. Then she's shipped off to a foster family, and her foster father teaches her to read with this book.

As she bears witness to the ravages of war on her country, her town, and her street, Liesel gets to know an unusual cast of characters -- from her friend who paints himself black and runs around the track pretending to be Jesse Owens to her own foster mother, an outwardly brutish character who cusses like a truck-driver.

Friends, colleagues, and family had begged me to read this book. As soon as I read death describing the way he sees colors, I knew that this was a masterpiece of innovative storytelling.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Many of the scenes are brutal, depressing, and harsh -- this is raw-boned life in the middle of a war. However, any teen will benefit from seeing war through the eyes of an "enemy" citizen. Also a strong reminder that first impressions can be deceiving. About how people cope with extreme grief over death and abandonment.

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006.

ISBN: 0375831003. $17.99.

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