Book Review: The Book Thief (Zusak)

The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak © 2005

Publisher: Picador

Genre: YA Lit

Subgenre: Historical fiction, Holocaust, Family & Social issues

Reviewer: Sara

Book received by: From mother.

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Synopsis: (Amazon blurb):

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.


Busy moms (and dads), this is an easy book to recommend, though it may not be the easiest to read. One of several historical fiction books I have read this year that were set during WWII, this one is certainly captivating. The story-lines are intricately layered and draw you in to the life of the characters, to the worlds of those who lived in and around Himmel Street.

What does human behavior look like, from the outside? What can we do different? Do better? I think learning from our past and current world events creates opportunities for all of us to do better in the future. That these themes are central to a book for young adults is both necessary and skillfully executed in The Book Thief. This is a book that will engage the young mind as much as the adult one. Discussing topics and history such as those handled in The Book Thief is essential for developing informed, introspective and inquisitive minds who will one day be the adults leading the world forward.

Zusak’s characters are well-developed and thought provoking. Experiencing the lives they lived in his book raises questions for personal reflection and that serve as discussion starters. How would you react in situations similar to those experienced by Liesel and Rudy? Or an adult living in a place and during a time when a people are persecuted, and those who would disagree or stand up to the masses face similar threats to themselves and their families? With the unique perspective of Death as the narrator, this tale stands out from the rest and lingers in the mind long after you read the final page.

Why then, do I rate it at four running moms and not five? Although a book of powerful themes and important subjects, with unique details that make it stand out from so many others, this book didn’t resonate as strongly with me as it may (and certainly has) with other readers. Death as a narrator, though interesting and clever, also served as a distraction. For example, how did Death know of certain details, like the specific drawings by Max if Death was elsewhere, gathering souls? Jumping to Death’s narration drew me out of a deeper engagement in the book, which inevitably made it easier for me to put it down. That being said, the overarching plot and intrigue of Liesel’s continuing story would ultimately draw me back in. The formatting of the book, another imaginative feature, added to the distraction I experienced in reading it. Does it work well for the young adult audience? Probably. And perhaps a broader range of YA than many other books may, at that. In my read of The Book Thief, it simply took time to adjust.

Those personal opinions aside, this is a book I will read and discuss with my kids when they’re older. And I highly recommend other busy moms and dads do the same.


Have you read The Book Thief? What was your favorite part? Did you experience any of the same distractions that I did?

Is The Book Thief on your “to-read” shelf? Have you read other books by Markus Zusak? Or similar YA historical fictions books you would recommend? Please share in the comments, I’m always on the lookout for a good YA and/or HF story!

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Book Thief (Zusak)

    • Hi, Amy! Thanks for reading and your comment! This was probably one of the most unique books and POV I have ever read. Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? Or Between Shaded of Gray? Those may have been the best HiFi books set during WWII that I have read. I ATLWCS reviewed a few months ago, and will be posting my review of BSoG in November. I’d love to know your thoughts on those!


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