Liesel Meminger is a half Jewish girl living in Nazi Germany. Her mother is Jewish but her father is German. Thankfully, she has her father’s blonde hair. Her mother takes her and her brother to foster care so they won’t be put into concentration camps because she is Jewish. On the train ride to the foster agency, her little brother dies of what seems to be pneumonia. They stop and bury him and by his grave she sees that the gravedigger has dropped a book. She later learns that the book is called The Gravedigger’s Handbook. It is the beginning of a lucrative career of book stealing. She takes this one in particular, because it reminds her of the last day she saw her mother and brother.
Shortly after that, Liesel is dropped off at the Hubermann’s. She says goodbye to her mother, not wanting her to leave, and never sees her again. What follows, is the story of a little girl who grows into a woman during Nazi Germany. She deals with all the issues that young adults during that time period dealt with: school, boys, hunger, sports, and finding your place in a world that seems to be falling apart at the seams.
This story is told through the eyes of death, a kind of jaded observer of humankind. He’s seen it all so nothing surprises or moves him until he meets Liesel. He follows Liesel and her story closer because I think she brings to him some sense of what humanity still could be amongst all this death and chaos. We see a lot more of the world when with death as the narrator but I felt like I was never fully immersed into the story like I would’ve been had it been narrated by Liesel. For one, Death never shows a whole lot of emotion and I’m drawn into a book more when I am made to feel what the characters feel.
Death also had a bad habit of revealing to the reader what was going to happen to the characters before it happened which I felt stole some of the raw emotion. I think that part of the trauma of a tragic story is the surprise that comes with a death you weren’t expecting. Also, the book tended to jump into a different time period right when I was being drawn into a scene. Then in the next chapter it might go back to the middle of that scene and it was just very disjointed to me. I think this book would’ve been more impactful with a linear story line.
Overall it is a good book. I would recommend it and it is interesting to see how the Nazi Party affected the other side. I found out that the Germans were poor and starving too. They may not have had to go through the concentration camps but the youth had to go to meetings for the Nazi Youth where they were treated very poorly and it was a lot like boot camp. Life was not easy during that time for anyone. Even the wealthy seem to be plagued with horrors of their own, like loss of loved ones in the war. I would give this book a 3.5 out of 5.