"I've seen so many young men over the years who think they're running at other young men.
They are not.
They are running at me."
Death has a story to tell about something that happened in 1939 Nazi Germany. A story about newly orphaned Liesel Meminger and her new foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann. A story about Rudy Steiner, the boy who wants to steal a kiss from her, and Max Vandenburg, the Jew who lives in her basement.
This is one of those books that exceeds expectations by such a degree, I'm left awestruck. This is not what I expected from a book labeled YA. The language in this book is simple yes, which I suppose is for the benefit of the Young Adult, and about a child growing up in Nazi Germany, but the story is complex enough for the Old Adult, with a pile of emotional triggers (code for I cried...a lot).
The story itself, is narrated by Death. That Death would take notice of anything besides ferrying souls between worlds, lends the haunting narrative a hopeful touch. Death takes notice of Liesel Meminger, a nine year old girl and a survivor, who's traveling with her younger brother to meet their new parents. But Liesel's brother never finishes the journey, and so Death begins to haunt Liesel Meminger's footsteps.
Illiterate little Liesel, placed in a class with students much younger than she, covets books above all other things. She takes them when no one's looking, she learns to read them in the basement with her foster father's help. There are moments of happiness for Liesel, learning to read, finding Rudy, her partner in crime, and sneaking a snowman through the house. Moments of youthful indiscretions and laughter followed by the horror of air raid sirens and bullies and starving men forcibly marched down the street. And while Liesel's fleeting moments of happiness encourage hope, Death never let's you forget how many people are dying while she's learning to read...
And that's the best and the worst part about this book. The happiness. The sadness. Liesel's a child who has already experienced too much loss, so seeing her happy is a relief followed by page-turning-anxiety in the knowledge that more pain is headed her way. And when bad things start to happen, you can't help but cry at the helplessness of it all. That at the end of the day, Liesel can only keep surviving, keep living, keep trying. That no matter what happens, Death has more to do when the humans go to war...And that He will inevitably come for everyone.
As sad as this book was, and predicted itself to be, the ending was surprising. Liesel was granted some happiness at the end and that made the pain worth suffering.
Any book that can make me feel so much is worthy of 5 stars.