First Lines: First the colors. Then the humans. That’s how I usually see things. Or at least, how I try.
I was actually shocked to find the other day that I had never reviewed this book! I was reading it for the third time (since some of my students are reading this in the Holocaust unit) and I was browsing my reviews, only to find this one wasn’t there!
In 1939 Nazi Germany, Death has never been busier. Yet one day, a little girl at her brother’s graveside catches his attention. The girl, Liesel, picks up something from the ground. It’s a book, The Gravedigger’s Handbook, and it’s her first act of thievery. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and begins to steal books whenever she gets the chance. But Nazi Germany is a dangerous place to break the rules. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world opens and closes at the same time.
I think this will be partly obvious because I’ve read this book three times, but I love it. I will certainly admit that it starts off quite slow. I saw that myself again with this reread and through my students, who keep asking when it’s going to pick up. (I also get other awesome questions like, “Are you sure Rosa likes Hans? Why haven’t they gotten divorced yet?”) But I promise if you can get past the slower stuff in the beginning, it gets so much better. I cry every time I read this.
This is also the first time I’ve read the book since the movie came out, so it was interesting to see it in context of that. I think the movie really helped me understand the characters as I reread the book. Rosa, or “Mama”, is a vastly more interesting character when you can understand her motivations, and the movie totally helped me see that better. I found with this reread that I liked her infinitely more than I used to.
But even though I appreciated Mama more, it’s Papa who steals my heart every time. Well, Max too, but I don’t want to say too much about him for spoiler reasons! Papa is that kind-hearted, understanding, and patient parental figure that I know I used to picture as a kid when my parents were too busy to pay attention to me. Papa is just who Liesel needed to help her grow.
And, of course, I love Liesel and Rudy too. Rudy is an exuberant, lively boy who is obsessed with Jesse Owens. He’s a charmer, and I find that adorable. Liesel is a lot like all readers: fascinated by words and the power they wield. I think avid readers, or at least readers who acknowledge themselves as readers, understand this. Her fascination with words brings a different spin to the story, especially when you factor in how dangerous words could be in Nazi Germany.
The plot is more of that of a life narrative rather than a clear-cut suspense story or anything. With Death as the narrator, he sees things differently and constantly bounces around. He even spoils the ending a few times, intentionally. He says he doesn’t see the point of suspense. But even though you might know the ending ahead of time, it still gets me every time.
I’m not kidding. Every reread, every time I rewatch the movie, I turn into a mess. So if you’re someone who is sensitive or cries easily, you might want to keep the tissues close on this one.
*happy sigh* I love this story.