There is nothing earth-shattering or new in the plot of this book about a circumstance-tossed but resilient girl growing up in Nazi Germany. The story, and her new life with foster parents, starts with tragedy, proceeds through terror and desperation piled on top of typical growing pains, and winds up with more tragedy cloaked in “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” It’s a harrowing tale, but also a heartwarming one, as we meet the people who shape Liesel’s life: her accordion-playing stepfather, her foulmouthed stepmother, her best friend, the Jew in the basement, the mayor’s miserable wife, and … Death, who is the narrator of this story. Yes, some readers have claimed this is gimmicky, but I found it worked completely. In this case, it’s a creative and fitting alternative the third-person unknown narrator. And who could serve as a better omniscient storyteller during the Holocaust than Death?
I started out by saying there is nothing earth-shattering about the plot. But there are so many other reasons for story-lovers to read this tale. The characters will become friends and neighbors just as they are to Liesel, the colors will sing to you, the sky will appear in all its grayness, and you will feel the frigid water of the river on your skin. With writing is so vivid and transformative, this is one of the few books I’ve read in which I can say that the writer’s craft transcends and truly uplifts the story. For someone who reads constantly and writes for a living, it’s rare and wonderful to find a voice with new ways of painting with words. I can’t wait to read more from Zusak.