The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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There are hundreds of book blogs reviewing The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I didn’t really read any of them before I began this book. What I did read was my cousin’s suggestion that I read it, along with some comments she had. She wrote:

It addresses orphans and hunger and family separation and Jewishness during World War II Germany. But it doesn’t bludgeon you with horror upon horror, then wallow in the pain. This is not one of those books that introduces you to characters only so you can more fully appreciate how the events of the story are the worst possible outcome for that person. It shows the beauty and triumph amidst gray life and thereby reveals the preciousness of love and relationships. Despite the subject matter, each time you put down the book you’ll feel a little warm glow in your heart.

I think she explained it wonderfully: she didn’t reveal a number of details about the plot, but she perfectly explained the emotions. I felt those same emotions as I read it. Because I didn’t know too much about The Book Thief before I read it (and most other reviews I’ve read after-the-fact reveal far too much), I was surprised and delighted by this book when I did pick it up.

After I started it, I found some site that referred to it as Young Adult literature. And then I found that is has won a number of awards as Young Adult literature and has been on the New York Times Children’s bestsellers list. I was very startled.

Besides the crude language (and there is a lot of it), I felt the writing style and plot was not for children. It was first published in Australia as an adult novel and was only published as a children’s novel when it came to the United States. I certainly enjoyed reading it, and I wouldn’t mind one of my children reading it, just as I wouldn’t mind my children reading other books for adults. But why would this be listed and awarded primarily as a children’s book? If my children were young, I’d want to read it at the same time and discuss various aspects with them (especially why such language is not necessary in our daily speech; for me, the foul language was excessive).

Maybe you can help me understand: Why is The Book Thief considered a book for children or young adults? If you are a young adult, what did you think?

As a conversation starter, here’s what Markus Zusak says about it:

The Book Thief was released in Australia for an adult audience, but in the U.S. it’s been promoted as a young adult book. What type of reader were you thinking of when you were writing?

I thought no one would read this; I thought it would be my least read book by a mile. …[edited because of spoilers]… It’s not exactly a book you recommend to your friends, especially if they’ve had a bad day. I look back and realize that I forgot the audience as I was writing. What I wanted to do, what I’ve always wanted to do was write someone’s favorite book. I’m aiming for that top shelf when I write, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in the kid’s section or the biography section or whatever. It’s more ambitious than writing a young adult book or an adult book. People know when your heart is in a book, and I think people can tell that my heart is in this book more so than any of my other books.

This is from an interview (containing spoilers) with Markus Zusak for the Mother Daughter Book Club.

Reviewed on May 30, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I think the only reason it’s categorized as young adult is that the author’s previous books were young adult. I’m trying to get my oldest son to read it, but I think it’s very adult, because of the language and the themes. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I definitely think Zusak met his goal of writing a favorite. (And you’re welcome to quote/link to me anytime!)

  • Great review! I really liked what your cousin had to say. She said it perfectly and beautifully. The only reason that I can think of as it why it’s YA is because of the age of the main character. A dumb reason probably but that’s the only thing that I can think of. I just hope that because of it’s YA categorization that more adults don’t miss out on this great book.

  • @Alessandra: I couldn’t find it at the library so I listen to the audio as I say in my next post and I’d highly recommended it. sells audiobooks and is a great resource. @angela michelle: thanks again for the recommendation–I add the link to you whole great review above. @Natasha @ Maw Books: you’re right–I hope the “ya” classification doesn’t turn people off to it. I loved it!

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