Markus Zusak couldn't quite make up his mind if he wants this novel to be a heart tugging tearjerker or a charming piece of whimsy. So he does both. Alternately.
When it's being whimsical, the reader awwws and ooohs and aaahs and falls in love with Liesel Meminger, feisty, kindhearted, intelligent, and funny. The relationship between her and golden haired Rudy Steiner has got to be the best love story I've ever encountered in a long time, maybe ever.
When it's tugging at your heart, it makes you despise war and prejudice while being awed by how pure goodness can happen against a backdrop of evil. Your heart breaks at the losses and shame Liesel has to deal with.
Her being of Aryan descent saved her from an acid shower, but didn't spare her the terrors of war and an evil rule. At the start of the novel, Liesel loses her brother (by death) and her mother (by disappearance). Her foster parents, who live in the poor side of town, subsist on very little but manage to lavish her with love. Mr. Hubermann's love more obvious, softer than Mrs. Hubermann's brash, savage affection, which frankly borders on abusive.
The appearance of Jewish Max Vanderburg spikes their lives with drama and danger, but also knits their family closer, brings out the good in Mrs. Hubermann, and intensifies Liesel's love for books.
Books -- one of the elements that make this story even more appealing. The lengths that Liesel goes through to steal books, her fascination with the Mayor's library, the power of words channeled by Max Vanderburg as he tells his own story -- I can relate. Zusak cannot fail but endear himself with the book nuts who read this.
All the events are narrated by Death. Cheeky. Sarcastic. Tortured. Death without the scythe. Warm. Compassionate. He's just doing his job.
Zusak uses bullet points and asides as a helpful devise to add meaning to the story. Sometimes the writing borders on gimmicky. Some parts are predictable.
Much of its predictability is also intentional. Zusak is his own worst spoiler. He shifts from the linear flow and goes fast forward to the future to warn you of pending doom. So you brace yourself for the worst. And when the worst does come, Zusak delivers the drama tersely, quickly. And just as your eyes brim with tears, he shifts his tone and gets charming and funny again. So if there's anything that I hate about the book, it's that I never get to a full 5-hanky bawl. And I so wanted to cry. I want my money back.
Okay, I didn't get my money's worth of tear duct purgation. Nevertheless, I loved The Book Thief. If the author was pandering to my sentimentality, well, it worked. This is fine story telling. This is a young adult book that adults can appreciate. It's hard to pick up another novel after reading this as visions of the book thief still lingers.