Book 19 Completed
Well, wouldn’t you know it? April is right around the corner and so is my 20th book — one fourth of the way through the year and one fourth of the way through my challenge? How’s that for punctual?
I’m not there quite yet…but I’m sure I’ll get there some time this week. Seeing as how I inhaled The Book Thief’s 500 pages in two days, I’d say chances are high that I can knock another challenge book out and finish my Murakami for book club this Saturday.
Anyway, for those of you eagerly waiting for my verdict of my Germany book, here it is: I loved this book. First of all, I’m really picky about my YA literature — I don’t think I’ve discussed my snobbishness before. Too often “good enough” is deemed “great” when it comes to books written for young adults. During this year as a Reading Workshop teacher, I have picked up dozens of books from our classroom library and tried to read them and I’m often faced with the reality that you don’t have to be a good writer at all to get published in this genre. There are outliers to this generalization, of course. And there are books that are compelling despite their weak narratives.
So, I really did pick this book up expecting disappointment. But then, about thirty pages into the book, I stopped and said out loud, “Wow. This guy can write.” I read I am the Messenger last year, but it wasn’t nearly as beautiful or poetic as The Book Thief (although, I do think that book has better pacing). Zusak’s writing is lyrical, magical — his imagery inspiring. There were so many little turns of phrases in the book or pockets of observations that made me stop, re-read, and then go grab a highlighter.
The narrator of this book is Death and Death’s observations coupled with the subject matter make this book surreal and powerful. Also, Death likes to give things away — prepare us for what is coming up next. And I think that this decision by Zusak totally worked. 100% completely. You see, The Book Thief (despite being billed as YA) doesn’t take World War II and then tie everything up with a little bow surrounded by sunshine and butterflies. As a matter of fact, the last 10 pages of the book KILLED ME. Like: “Crying in bed and wiping huge chunks of mascara on to my pillowcase” killed me. But I did know it was coming (or I knew most of it anyway) and that helped soften my anger. If Zusak had just sprung the ending on his readers without warning, people (like me) would just be plain pissed off. When you’re going to do something severe as an author, you have to do your best to prepare your readers to follow you in that decision — and he did that and that’s a lot harder to do than people might think. Impressive.
Another thing I loved about this book was its perspective on World War II — it felt fresh. And it certainly was different from the other things I’ve read so far about World War II during this journey. This book takes Nazi Germany and gives it a soul. While our own World War II propaganda might be quick to paint every German man, woman, and child (especially children in the Hitler Youth) as the enemy, The Book Thief gives Germans under Hitler’s reign their humanity back. There is little “Jessie Owens” Rudy Heil Hitler-ing all over town, but man alive if you don’t LOVE that kid.
Now, I do want to say: This book is kinda gimmicky — and we know how I feel about gimmicky writers. But for some reason, I am pretty forgiving with this one. I think Zusak managed to create something really amazing with this book. He deserves the praise he received for it and I’m glad I made time to fit it into my Around the World schedule.