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Book Review–The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Title:  The Book Thief

Author:  Markus Zusak

Publisher:  Knopf

Length:  552 p.

Synopsis:  The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a child in World War II-era Germany, who, after being abandoned by her mother to a foster family, finally finds her place in her disintegrating world thanks to her loving Papa; her best friend/partner in crime/next door neighbor/would-be boyfriend, Rudy Steiner; a Jew named Max who hides in her family’s basement; and most importantly, her words.  The most interesting thing about this book, and the thing that makes it so unforgettable, is the fact that it is narrated by Death.  By the end of the novel, Death becomes almost an object of pity because he has come to sympathize so with the humans who are at his mercy because of the destruction of that madman, Hitler, and the war.

My Thoughts: This is a book that really stuck with me.  In fact, when I finally finished it late one night this past week, I commented to my husband, Steady Eddie, that I wished I had not finished it when I did because it stayed on my mind so much that I could not go to sleep for a while.  I am no stranger to World War II and Holocaust fiction, but something about this book made it extremely poignant and compelling.  Zusak does excellent job of creating characters that are realistic, but in the end, almost every one of them has become beloved by the reader.  That is no small feat, especially when a character like Rosa, Liesel’s foster mother, is considered.  She rails against Liesel, curses her (and anyone else within hearing distance) in both English and German, and even beats her with a wooden spoon.  In the end, though, this is what Death has to say about her:

Make no mistake, the woman had a heart.  She had a bigger one than people would think.  There was a lot in it, stored up, high in miles of hidden shelving [. . .] She was a Jew feeder without a question in the world on a man’s first night in Molching.  And she was an arm reacher, deep into a mattress, to deliver a sketchbook to a teenage girl. (532)

The story itself is fairly complex, but the humanity of it reaches deep.  This is a coming-of-age novel in which the protagonist comes of age at one of the worst times and in one of the worst places in history.   It’s a story about the amazing power of words.  Something about Zusak’s style reminds of E.L. Konigsburg’s.  While I would not recommend this novel to just any teen (or adult, for that matter) due to the violence, profanity, and serious themes contained therein, I do think it’s a worthwhile read.  Zusak has written a unique book in The Book Thief,   one deserving of the 2007 Printz Honor it received.


Book Review–The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness








Title:  The White Darkness

Author:  Geraldine McCaughrean

Publisher:  Harper Collins

Pages:  373

ISBN:  0060890355

Synopsis:  Symone Wates (Sym for short) is a fourteen year old English school girl whose life takes a turn for the decidedly more adventurous when her uncle (who’s actually not her uncle, just a former business associate of her deceased father) kidnaps her (‘though she doesn’t realize at the time that she is being kidnapped; it’s just Uncle Victor, for goodness’ sake!) and takes her on an expedition to Antarctica.  To say that Uncle Victor is eccentric is a definite understatement. He is a self-proclaimed genius who has trained Sym, unbeknownst to her, for this very point in her life.  Uncle Victor believes that he can find Symmes’ Hole, a theoretical hole in the earth’s crust which would lead to worlds-within-our-world, creatures never seen before by human eyes, and who knows what else.  Sym is herself quite the expert on Antarctica, and she has Titus Oates, famed explorer of the 1910 Scott expedition to the South Pole, as her own imaginary friend as a result of this obsession.  What follows the kidnapping is one scene outlandish scene following another and then another.  Murder, mayhem, and lots of near-misses ensue, but in the end, Sym finds out a few things about her father, Titus Oates, and most importantly, herself. 

My Thoughts:  This book might rightly be titled “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (oops, that one’s already taken) or “Fire and Ice” as a nod to the Robert Frost poem, but “The White Darkness” is almost as good a title because this book is all about darkness.  I did not pick this book up by chance; I read it as a part of Semicolon‘s Biblically Literate Book Club.  I guess that Semicolon picked it because it is the 2008 Printz Award winner.  Although I haven’t to my knowledge read any of the other contenders, I can say that this book is worthy of the prize.  Although it does have the obligatory references to s*x and some bad language, the story itself is shocking enough to meet the standard of an award-winnning YA book.  Sym Wates is a very unassuming and unlikely heroine; she of her shy manners, hearing aides, and absolute certainty that her father hated her until his dying day.  McCaughrean deftly paints word pictures throughout this story; one of my favorites happens early on, when Sym is attempting to convince Uncle Victor that taking a detour off of their planned vacation route isn’t such a good idea:

“Whereabouts, Uncle?  What about school?  We don’t have the right clothes for the sun.  There wouldn’t be swimming, would there?  I’ve got homework.  I’ll have to ask Mum.  Mum wouldn’t like. . . ”  My objections and misgivings soon lay piled on every flat surface in my tiny room.

But Victor just smiled and packed them nearly away again.  “Only real school is the School of Life, lass.  Think on.”  Hands on his thighs, knees tucked tightly together, bouncing slightly with excitement, he sat ont he broken bedroom stool, grinning at me in the dressing-table mirror.  “What say we don’t tell Lillian, eh?  Let’s keep it our little secret.” 

My initial unease about Uncle Victor’s intentions for Sym were a little off, but not by much.  As it turns out, Uncle Victor has this trip south planned down to the very last detail.  This story is fantastic in the truest sense of the word.  The fact that Sym has an inner dialogue with Titus Oates going on at almost all times makes the story even more compelling; Sym finds refuge in Titus during the hard times, and from this refuge comes the needed strength to survive against all odds.  This is truly one of those books that I find hard to review, but let me say that it is so suspenseful that I read it in only a few days, and in this SAHM’s life, that is almost unheard of.