“I was quite surprised to discover that The Book Thief was located in the Young Adult section of my library. I was also quite surprised to find that I liked it so much. Usually I associate "young adult" with books like the "Eclipse" trilogy, which I think of as practically pulp fiction. However, this book was really very good, telling of Nazi Germany from a unique perspective, that of Death.
With Death as a narrator, one would expect near total gloom and darkness. On the contrary, I found the voice of the narrator to be gentle, caring, respectful, and wise. Death tells the story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief of the title.
Liesel becomes a book thief before she even knows how to read. Although she is already ten years old, her circumstances haven't allowed much time for school. Her mother, desparate to provide for her children, arranges for her daughter and son to be placed in foster care with Hans and Rosa Hubermann. However, on the journey to Molching, the little boy dies. Traumatized by the experience of finding her little brother dead and his immediate burial in an anonymous town, Liesel steals her first book from the cemetery: a manual for a grave digger's apprentice.
Arriving at 33 Himmel Street, the Hubermanns' residence, naturally Liesel does not want to go inside and leave everything she has ever known behind. She does, however, and thus begins her new life.
Rosa Hubermann is stocky and gruff, and swears a lot. She ostensibly has taken a foster child for the extra money; but it turns out that despite her rough ways, Rosa has a warm heart. She calls people pigs as a term of endearment. Hans Hubermann, a veteran of World War I, is a kindly, principalled man whose dwindling income from his painting business is augmented by playing his accordion at the taverns around Molching.
Liesel eventually settles in, befriends the children of the neighborhood, and begins to learn to read with Hans as her tutor. Her next-door neighbor, Rudy Steiner, is her best friend, protector, and partner in crime. Despite war time shortages, everyone makes do.
Liesel continues to steal books, once from a Nazi book burning, and then from one of Rosa's laundry customers, the mayor's wife. The books make her feel good, they fill an emotional hole, provide an escape, and help her learns words and reading. As the war progresses, the Nazis don't seem so glorious....bombs start falling, there is little food. And then Max appears at the door of 33 Himmel Street. Max is the son of the man who taught Hans to play the accordion in the trenches of World War I. Max's father died in the war, and Hans offered his widow his help if he ever needed it. Max is a Jew; he needs a place to hide.
Hans and Rosa take Max into their basement, feed him, nurse him, and become his friend. Liesel especially is very partial to Max, bringing him gifts when he is ill, telling him about her exploits, and the weather. She becomes a better reader, and inspires Max to write her stories. All the time, Death is watching.
As happened all too often in World War II, Death carried away too many innocent souls. The German word Himmel means heaven, and it is not an irony that the Hubermann's street is called that. it is not because of its qualities here on Earth, but because of what happens. Despite the fact that Death often foreshadows who will live and die, the reader still wishes and hopes for the futures of the residents of Himmel Street.
The story forms a perfect circle when Death comes for Liesel, and brings back something that she lost.”