The Book Thief

by Zusak Markus

Paperback, 2007





BLACK SWAN (2007), Edition: Reprint, 560 pages


Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel--a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.

Media reviews

The Australian writer Markus Zusak's brilliant and hugely ambitious new young-adult novel is startling in many ways, but the first thing many teenagers will notice is its length: 552 pages! It's one thing to write a long book about, say, a boy who happens across a dragon's egg; it's quite another
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to write a long, achingly sad, intricately structured book about Nazi Germany narrated by Death itself.
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6 more
The book's length, subject matter and approach might give early teen readers pause, but those who can get beyond the rather confusing first pages will find an absorbing and searing narrative.
"The Book Thief" attempts and achieves great final moments of tear-jerking sentiment. And Liesel is a fine heroine, a memorably strong and dauntless girl. But for every startlingly rebellious episode... there are moments that are slack.
Writing fiction about the Holocaust is a risky endeavor. Most children learn about it in history class, or through nonfiction narratives like Eli Wiesel's "Night." Zusak has done a useful thing by hanging the story on the experience of a German civilian, not a camp survivor, and humanizing the
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choices that ordinary people had to make in the face of the Führer. It's unlikely young readers will forget what this atrocity looked like through the eyes of Death.
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The Book Thief is unsettling and unsentimental, yet ultimately poetic. Its grimness and tragedy run through the reader's mind like a black-and-white movie, bereft of the colors of life. Zusak may not have lived under Nazi domination, but The Book Thief deserves a place on the same shelf with The
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Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel's Night. It seems poised to become a classic.
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Zusak has written, in his 30th year, one of the most unusual and compelling of recent Australian novels. He gives its last words to Death, who confesses "I am haunted by humans". Those whom we encounter in The Book Thief have that power over the reader, too.
Érase una vez un pueblo donde las noches eran largas y la muerte contaba su propia historia... Una novela preciosa, tremendamente humana y emocionante, que describe las peripecias de una niña alemana de nueve años desde que es dada en adopción por su madre hasta el final de la guerra. Su nueva
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familia, gente sencilla y nada afecta al nazismo, le enseña a leer y a través de los libros Liesel logra distraerse durante los bombardeos y combatir la tristeza. Pero es el libro que ella misma está escribiendo el que finalmente le salvará la vida.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Lman
What words to use to describe this book? Without doubt it is a colourful vignette in the grim history of World War II, mayhap a story of sorrow, suffering and death; most certainly it is an intoxicating tale of life. It encapsulates four years of Leisel Meminger’s life in Nazi Germany, in Himmel
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Street, Molching, where she is coaxed through the door to live with foster parents after the death of her brother and relocation by her mother. Here she is castigated and coddled by her new mama; coached in her letters through the hours of her nightmares by her new papa; consoled by her new friends and her oft-stolen books; and influenced by the Jew they hide in their basement, and by his writings.

And a special story it is – how not; for it is narrated by Death, a spirit so bowed down by his duties at this particular time that he requires distraction from this unenviable task; which he finds within the book thief’s words and in the hues of her world.

This is a singular work: unique in the style of the narrative, in the construction of the sentences, clever in the use of words and their allegories; innovative with the unusual font and layout. As the author says “I like the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it”. In my opinion this book does.

I laughed through this book, I cried in places, and at times the story resonated in me with such force that I had difficulty in drawing breath. I usually avoid holocaust stories avidly but I have often wondered what it was like for everyday Germans living through those times. This gives a small idea – an expression of warmth in a landscape of such cold. By never judging, never condemning, never condoning nor ignoring the reality; by offering a little understanding and a shred of comprehension, a story like this may just allow Death some smattering of help in the future and perchance lessen his load. Now that is worth every word!
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LibraryThing member ffortsa
I was not looking forward to reading another WWII/ Holocaust book. The territory has been so heavily covered lately - [Everything is Illuminated], [The Dream of Scipio], [The History of Love] - and while these are good and sometimes great books, they are all so sad. But Zusek has done something
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quite different in this book.

He creates the character of Death, neither evil or simple, a personality that develops along with the story. Death's descriptive language is utterly compelling, beautiful and creative, and through the perspective of Death, Zusak takes away and yet recreates the suspense in the story.

Zusak shows the effects of war from the point of view of children in Germany, children who are experiencing the only life they know, with its play and learning and puzzlement. That is not to say it is innocent. The job of children, after all, is to figure out the world, however confusing it might be. And one of their jobs, and the main character's job most of all, is to master language, written and spoken, and to realize its power.

And the author shows how people are iwith each other in a small town, in a small section of a small town, how they divide and how they come together, and how pain is felt throughout the community, how some people risk themselves for their sense of honor, responsibility and love, and how all suffer the inevitable sorrows of war.

All this with beautiful, unusual, and extraordinarily simple language, so that the reading flows effortlessly and the images are fresh, giving you new ways of seeing the world around you.

The book is generally found in the Young Adult section in the US, which can only be explained by a marketer's idea of the focus on the children in the story. Don't imagine that, as an adult, you are past the age to read this book. You would only be cheating yourself.
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
WWII, Germany. Hitler’s rhetoric has inflamed the country with hatred. His words touch the heart and soul of every person under his thumb. Some fall easily, others portray to be faithful to his oratory yet refuse to succumb to the base mentality that envelopes so many and divides people into who
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are human and who are considered nothing but filthy animals. The Book Thief, however, knows the positive power of words and she, Liesel Meminger, uses them instead to calm and comfort people in the face of danger or sadness and despite the differences in people can bring them together to give them a common connection. Of course, it is Nazi Germany so there is more than enough sorrow, grief and ……death. All I can say about the appearance of Death in this novel is you will not think of him/it the same way again. He is portrayed as a tired being, gentle and compassionate. He is a visitor who sees the destruction around him and carries out his duties. Yet amidst the warfare and hatred he observes love the kind that is somehow tragic, yet eternal and sometimes least expected.
The Book Thief is not always an easy read but it is a moving experience which is a must read and the mark it leaves on you won’t soon be etched away.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
The first time I read The Book Thief, three years ago, I couldn't stop crying when I finished it. You might think that I wouldn't want to do that to myself again, but it's absolutely worth it. I couldn't put it down. I just finished rereading it and once again, as I read those final pages the
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waterworks started up.

The book is about a young orphaned girl named Liesel and it takes place in Germany during World War II. That being said, this book is like no other WWII book I've ever read. It's full of hope and love and humor. It is narrated by Death, but not in a creepy way, in a brilliant way. Who could possibly give you a better look at WWII than Death himself?

The writing is what truly sets it apart. Zusak has a gift for saying simple things in a way that makes your heart ache. The story unfolds like a poem. He wrote the characters so well that I got goose bumps when I reread it, because it was like hearing from old friends. Liesel's best friend Rudy is loyal and sincere and her tough foster mother Rosa is more than meets the eye. A Jewish man named Max changes her life, but more than anyone else, Liesel's foster father Hans Hubermann stole my heart.

This is one of my favorite books I've ever read and one of the few that I universally recommend to people. I have yet to find anyone who hasn't loved it. I will never fully be able to explain the beauty of this story, but I would encourage anyone who hasn't read it to do you immediately!

"I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race – that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and it's words and stories so damning and so brilliant." – Death

***Side note: If you listen to the audiobook make sure you look at a hard copy at some point. It includes a few illustrations that are important to the story.
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LibraryThing member knitbusy
In my family, I'm famous for reading the spoilers for movies and even occasionally some books . In a moment of suspense at whatever movie we might be attending, my husband can always turn to me when the tension gets to be just too much and ask me how things are going to turn out because he knows
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that I've read the spoiler. Why would I do this you might ask? To protect myself from caring too much. My theory has always been that if I know things are going to turn out badly I won't get too attached to the characters.

Imagine my surprise when The Book Thief destroyed all of my carefully laid plans. Since the book, which takes place in Nazi Germany, is narrated by Death it isn't giving away too much to say that I knew things couldn't possibly turn out happily for Liesel Meminger, the book thief. Death himself even gives us very broad and specific hints at what lies in store for Liesel, and those she cares about throughout the book. Despite all this, I fell hard for almost each and every character in this book. I actually found myself wiping away a few tears as I finished the last few pages. I've been reading a lot of great books lately, but this one really stands out as an amazing read.

The story is that of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl who we meet just prior to the rise of power of the Nazi party. Liesel is sent to live with some foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who live on Himmel street, just outside of Munich. Liesel has lost everything; and is haunted especially by the death of her brother which she witnessed. Somehow, she finds comfort in words and books, despite her inability to read. Hans, her amazing foster father, teaches her to read. This love of books, especially stolen ones, becomes Liesel's salvation, and her means of survival as her nation goes up in flames.

I honestly can't say too many wonderful things about this book. I honestly loved everything about it. The characters are so wonderful, so amazing, so imperfectly human, and the story will inspire you and break your heart all at the same time.
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LibraryThing member fearless2012
I'm normally a little lenient with the books I read (although this one was an unwanted gift, just because it's popular), but with this one I just have to come and out and say that I just plain don't like it, without qualifications.

It's ugly.


(And my name is
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It was stupid and irritating.


Do you like Nazis and bookstores? Do long, unedited, rough, meandering.....

Aimless, desultory, and pretentious.

It's amazing to me how much money people can make off the Holocaust, especially with teenagers, without actually adding anything useful to anyone's knowledge of anything. It just adds a political layer to shield the rather pointless and meaningless interactions of the flat and stupid characters.... It's just written in this stupid convoluted style to get good reviews, that's all.

And as far as being anti-Nazi goes, I don't see why we always have to focus on the Germans (just so that the text can be cluttered with German words), and how there were nice friendly Germans (presumably the ones who didn't answer the telephone, "Heil Hitler?" instead of "Hello?", as they all did) and how they had problems and felt sad because of their difficulty in annihilating everyone.... and ignore many of the peoples they were trying to annihilate, like the Poles and the Russians. I read a book ("The Messiah of Stockholm") which talked about the Poles, but usually the Holocaust means Germans, Germans, Germans, and nobody else.... even the Jews seem to end up on the sidelines. (Nobody clutters the text with Hebrew words, only German ones.) ..... And since it's all Hitler Hitler Hitler it's not like it's this wonderful "Sound of Music" thing for the Germans, either.... And yet it's pretty monolith about Germans and Death, with no room for anything else, I think.

And yet you might say, Well that's just your political opinion, or something, but the whole book is contrived to be about nothing else. 'Boo hoo, I am a poor little German girl in Nazi Germany, woe is me, etc., etc.'-- there's just no way to avoid a political evaluation as to whether or not blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girls were really the main target of Hitler's aggression. (And why only German suffering is depicted, and not those of Russians.... if it is really so long and all-encompassing? Even the Jews are just presented in passing....) And if somehow you make that political thing go away, you have the problem of why the characters are so flat and boring, which wasn't supposed to matter, because they are *political* characters, and not the kind that have some kind of growth or interpersonal development. No, it's simply that things happen to them, many things, and ugly things, which is good, because the longer and the uglier the book is, the better the review will be in the paper, because people like to feel important-- so if it's something kinda ugly and unusual, people can feel more important knowing about it....


But there is a book, as a prop, in the book.

Call the library. Make a flier. Marshall the teenagers. Everyone must read this book-- there's a book in it.

And the word 'book' is in the title, even. How..... literary.

Really, though. You already knew about Germans and Hitler and everything, and you won't learn about anybody else.... it's not like it's one of these history books that explained why the Germans loved Hitler or anything like that. ('Hitler's Beneficiaries', for example. Guess who they were.... little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls.... who are automatically innocent, because only their fathers and brothers were in the army.... which is also innocent.... in fact, only Hitler himself was....) What does it explain?

And if it's not here to explain, what exactly does it do?

Employ printers, I suppose? Drive up the demand for ink and paper?

I mean, people talk about the Germans going through their little evil phase, but their other big cliche fault is being stupidly boring.... I know the author isn't German, but there are probably German books that aren't this boring.... I suppose it would be interesting to speculate whether a German author would be so forward about putting forward these poor innocent little Germans in Nazi Germany; it's so trite and untrue. If you need German or German-speaking heroes, read about Mozart and old Vienna, or maybe present-day Germans, I guess..... But don't use the *Holocaust* to try to make them look good.....

I mean, if you don't like one of these "good German" stories, then you're automatically a racist.... it's such, bullshit. It's such sugar-coating the whole damn thing.... and all for this vapid non-character who


has all the uniqueness of a personified Death.

I mean, I'd give it a lower grade, ('I hate it') instead of just a high F or near-D, ('I give it my unqualified dislike; it fails') but it's hard to feel much about these stupid people. It's so god-damn boring and impersonal ('I am just your average little archetype German girl in Nazi Germany, who loves Jews....') and so.... misleading.... ('I am....')

I mean, if you want to talk about history, I read some of that Richard J. Evans series, and this is not how little girls acted in this place and time.

And if she's so damn extraordinary, why is she.... such a stillborn character, really.


Everything you have done, you have done, poorly.

It's just such a herd book. (We want the Holocaust-- dramatic! We also want feel good-- don't tell me it's the Holocaust!) It's such a silly, dull, little herd-stampede kind of a book.

It's false art. I have nothing better to say about it.

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LibraryThing member ScattershotSteph
The Book Thief has been sitting beside my bed for nearly a year. The first time that I attempted to read it, I made it through only the first few pages before setting it aside and picking up something else. The second time, I persevered, but it took about two hundred pages before Zusak’s story
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finally seemed to “click” for me… and then, it clicked off again only a few pages later, for good. I vowed to get through the rest, however, if only to be able to counter people’s apparent shock and deep, personal offense at my dislike of this book by assuring them that, yes, I did read the whole thing and to write a review that lets people with a similarly low opinion of it know that they’re not alone.

You’re not alone.

I’m really at a loss to understand the runaway praise (“life-changing”?) and widespread devotion that The Book Thief seems to inspire. I enjoy YA fiction; I remember devouring both fiction and non-fiction works on World War II as a child (Number the Stars, The Devil’s Arithmetic, The Diary of Anne Frank). The story that The Book Thief offers wasn’t nearly as compelling as any of these to me, and the writing – especially the bullet-pointed interjections by Death, our narrator – was extraordinarily distracting. (Incidentally, that burst of pages that engrossed me was one where these interruptions were absent.)

There is something especially troubling to me, as well, about the notion that out of all of the humans Death has encountered, out of all of the souls that he collected during WWII, it is Liesel Meminger who continues to haunt him.

Really? I mean, including, you know, the bodies that he hovered over in the gas chambers? (Death does mention them.) Even more than the other characters who die, on- or offstage, in this story?

The reason for Death’s particular fascination with Liesel just wasn’t clear to me, even by the end of the book. Of course there’s value in preserving and exploring, even through fiction, the experiences of those who lived through the war – on both sides – as Zusak seems to want to do here. But in The Book Thief, the kinds of moral dilemmas and real tragedies that made the other works mentioned above so powerful seem to have been swept away completely.
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LibraryThing member xicanti
Liesel, a young girl growing up on the outskirts of Munich, helps her foster parents hide a Jewish man in their basement.

You've heard a lot of good things about this book, and they're true. Every one of 'em.

It's tempting, I think, to consider any Holocaust-related book as yet another story about
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how terrible the Nazis were, but THE BOOK THIEF is a great deal more than that. It's about regular Germans who are caught in the middle and have formed their own conclusions about what's going on around them. It's beautiful and brutal, and it is most definitely worth your time.

THE BOOK THIEF may be marketed
as YA in Canada and the US, but
don't think that means Zusak is
gonna pull his punches.
He isn't.

Death narrates the story, and he's blunt behind his fancy language. He doesn't try to shield us; he's frank about the horrors of war and the depredations of humanity, and he doesn't stint on the spoilers. We quickly learn who does or doesn't make it through to the end.

But for all that, it's not an overly depressing story. I mean, it is depressing, but there's so much hope and so much beauty that the sorrow never becomes overwhelming. Liesel and her friends are enmeshed in a difficult situation, and parts of their story had me in tears, but Zusak never lets the reader lose sight of the people at the heart of the drama. This is their story; it's about what they refuse to let go of, no matter how bad things get. He shows us the little bits and pieces that make up their lives, and there are far more kind moments than cruel ones. Papas teach their new daughters to roll cigarettes. Mamas show their love with gruff insults. Grieving women reach out in surprising ways.

That's not to say that the cruel moments weigh little. They don't. They are brutal. Every time I started to get complacent, every time I started to think that maybe everything was going to be all right after all, Zusak bashed me so hard I was in tears before I knew it. Even though Death tells you straight out what's gonna go down, I never believed him. I couldn't believe him. He was lying for the sake of narrative effect, and that was that. And I'll tell you, it's brilliantly done. The kindness and the cruelty exist alongside one another, just as they do in real life, and you let the narrator trick you because you'd collapse in on yourself if you didn't.

I also appreciated the book's structure. I found it cinematic in feel; it's composed of many small scenes and recollections that effectively act as jolts, forcing us to shift our focus and reevaluate the story at every turn. I found the structure quite effective. It drew me in and forced me to evaluate everything for myself. I couldn't read it quickly, but neither could I tear myself away. I became so immersed in it that I found myself thinking in the book's style.

When she reads lots of graphic novels,
she thinks in word bubbles.
Now that she's finished THE BOOK THIEF,
she's thinking in big bold blocks.

(Be thankful that I didn't write the whole review in said big bold blocks. I was mighty tempted).

And on top of all that, we've got scads about books and literacy and the power of the word. You'd better believe I was all over that.

So it's true, what you've heard. This isn't a pleasant book, but it's a worthwhile one in which kindness and love run alongside the cruelty of war. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend that you do so.

(A slightly different version of this review originally appeared on my blog, Stella Matutina).
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LibraryThing member tipsister
Wow. That's the perfect word for The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Yes, I loved the book. I thought it was brilliantly written, incredibly moving, and terribly devastating. This is the second book I've read that takes place during World War II and the Holocaust. Believe it or not, I have two more on
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tap for the year. Sometimes book themes come in waves, usually unintentionally. I figure I'm supposed to be learning something. I hope I do.

What makes The Book Thief different, and special, is that it is not the story of the soldiers. It isn't the story of the Jewish people. It's a story about a German family, trying to survive. Obviously I knew that not every German during that time period was a Nazi, but I rarely thought about the people living in a devastated country, led by an insane ruler.

The Book Thief is narrated by Death -who or what he is can be your interpretation. I choose to believe he was an angel of death, taking souls to some Heavenly processing center. Death is moved -as much as death can be- by a young girl named Liesel and he tells her story. Liesel's mother can not take care of her anymore due to her ties with the communist party. On the way to Munich, where Liesel and her brother will be placed in foster care, Liesel's brother dies. At his funeral, she spies a book in the snow and steals it, having no idea what it is called or what it's about.

Fortunately for Liesel, she is placed in a good home with good people. Sure Mama has a temper and a foul mouth. She still treats her new daughter with love. Papa is wonderful. He is warm and comforting to the girl plagued with nightmares of her brother's death. He gives her the greatest gift by teaching her to read. She makes friends, steals more books, and learns how important words are.

I don't want to give anything away so I won't go on but I will tell you to go read this book. It's a life changer.
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LibraryThing member fredvandoren
This is a tale of love, literacy, and the many ways words connect and divide us. Set in Germany during the Nazi era, it is the story of a young orphan girl who loses her brother in a train crash and reaches out for the first thing she sees – a book that turns out to be a grave-digging manual. She
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is is taken in by a German couple of limited education. The mother is abusive, but the father is patient and suppportive, staying up night after night when horrible dreams awaken her. She enters school, but is ridiculed and punished when they learn she is illiterate. Her step-father, barely literate himself, teaches her to read, painting letters onto the wall and reading from the only book she owns.

Like many poor kids of the time, she joins a gang and learns to steal. But she is much less interested in food and money than books. A turning point comes when she steals a book from a pile of banned literature, set ablaze in a local display of Nazi power. She is seen by the mayor’s wife and a strange relationship begins with this broken woman, whose son was taken in war and who owns a wonderous library.

The increasingly rabid anti-Jewish campagn lies in the background of the story, and Leisel is only dimly aware of it until one day, in fulfillment of promise made by her step-father long ago, a Jew arrives on their doorstep and changes everything. The step-mother who had seemed harsh and cruel, immediately jumps in to feed and protect him. And because he cannot go outside, Leisel becomes his eyes and ears. She learns to fashion verbal portraits of the sky and storytelling becomes a bond between them.

The narrator of the story is Death, perhaps the most appropriate voice for an era that reeeked of it. He is, of course, everywhere at once, a great convenience for an author. He is much more sympathetic than one would expect, unable to control the outrageous behavior of the human race, yet impressed by their resilience and goodness too.

The tragic history of this period has been told so often that we become numb to it. Statistics are necessary, but they are empty and leave us unconnected. It is the tales of individual people that open our hearts and the novel is a perfect form for the telling.
Read it.
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LibraryThing member atimco
The Book Thief tells the story of a young German girl, Liesel Meminger, who lives with her foster parents in a poor part of Molching during World War I. The story is narrated by Death, who is friendly (though generally detached) toward humanity, overworked, and keenly interested in the beauty of
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colors. Liesel arrives at Himmel Street an emotional wreck, having witnessed her brother's death on the train on the way there and missing her parents (whose fate in Nazi Germany is darkly hinted at). Liesel clings to a book she found by chance at the graveyard where her brother was buried, and it becomes the key for her foster-father, Hanz Hubermann, to pry open the clamshell of her pain.

Zusak's writing is excellent; he has a wry humor and uses adjectives in unconventional and powerful ways. He conveys a strong sense of the reality of his characters; they act in ways that are entirely consistent with the descriptions given. I'm not sure which character is the best: Rosa Hubermann, that foulmouthed woman of unsuspected depths, her husband Hanz, the unassuming painter and hero of the nightmare hour, Rudy, the lovably mischievous neighbor boy, or Max, the Jewish fist-fighter hidden in the Hubermanns' basement. And Liesel, of course! Each is memorable in a way unusual for fictional characters. They lived.

In many ways this book reminded me of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Both deal with racial prejudice seen from the perspective of a young girl, with a quietly heroic father-figure standing against the overwhelming tide of evil. The immediate community, with all its varied elements, is very much present, and you could even make the case that Boo Radley has a lot in common with the mayor's wife as a secret, emotionally stunted benefactor of the story's young protagonist. Also central to both stories are the relationships among the children: Scout, Jem, and Dill and then Liesel and Rudy.

With all this praise, however, there are some criticisms I'd add. After the incredible emotional buildup of the story, the powerful climax, the fitting description of Liesel's final meeting with Death—after all this, I found the last line of the book surprisingly trite. And though the foul language some of the characters use probably adds to their verisimilitude, it was a bit overdone.

I need to add what a brilliant job Allan Corduner did on the audiobook version. I suspect he is a huge part of why I enjoyed this story so much. He does each character's voice so well! If you ever have the chance to listen to this, it's well worth the extra time that an audiobook takes.

The Book Thief is well on its way to becoming a modern classic, having scooped up all kinds of awards lying around. I would be surprised if people aren't still reading it when most other contemporary books with pretensions to profundity are completely forgotten. Sometimes books are popular because they're good. The Book Thief is one of those; I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member MartinKoerner
“The book thief” will steal something from its reader: time, but it is a gift willingly and happily surrendered to this highly imaginative journey.

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak captivated me right from its first page. I had never read a book before, written from the vantage point of
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death. But the author makes death into the main character even humanizes him, which almost makes the reader feel sympathetic towards him. In this case death is more than the mere taker of life, but he also shows us compassion and feeling.

The backdrop of the story is southern Germany in WWII and it provides a glimpse into a horrible past that many only know from history books or novels.
In simple, spare and fluid narrative, death tells his story of Liesel, and her life as a book thief that begins for her at age ten. With her very first book Liesel is drawn into a maelstrom of fascination for words.

Liebe überwindet alle Dinge
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
A book set in Germany during World War II must be about the war, right? About the oppression of the Jews and the rise of the Nazis. About shortages and "Heil Hitlers." About brothers and fathers going off to fight and about the bombs coming to the neighborhoods. The Book Thief includes those
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things, to be sure, but that's not what the book is about.

It is about something much more intimate. It is about a girl named Liesel Meminger who steals books and learns to read them. It is about her foster parents, harsh Mama and tender Papa, both of whom surprise us as we get to know them better. It is about Liesel's first love, Rudy Steiner, and their coming-of-age in a broken world. It is about soccer games and bomb shelters on Himmel Street.

But it is also about something much bigger. It is about the depths of evil and the best of the human spirit. It is a story narrated by death, who provides perspective as no one else could do, and who provides a classic last line: "I am haunted by humans." It is about the role of words and stories and books, because in the end, our stories are all we have. My guess is that it will resonate especially with book lovers.

I fell in love with this book, despite the distractions that come with listening to it on audio. I convinced my real-life book club to read it in a couple of months, and I expect that I'll get the paper version and read it again then. My feelings about books often change after I've sat with them for a while, but right now this is definitely one of my best reads of the year and might make its way onto an All-Time Best list. If you haven't read it, you should.
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LibraryThing member miyurose
This book is many things. 'Haunting' may be an egregiously overused cliché, but it's difficult to find a better word to describe a book set in Germany during World War II that is narrated by none other than Death himself. People seem to either love or hate this book, and I think most of that has
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to do with the writing style. Zusak does things that are generally not done. Words are spoken about as objects that can slap you in the face or roll to a stop at your feet. Colors come to you through Death's eyes, so the skies may be blue or yellow or brown or white. And beneath it all is a rhythm that grabbed me and pulled me through Liesel's world.

'Summer came.
For the book thief, everything was going nicely.
For me, the sky was the color of Jews.'

For me, an interesting aspect of this book is the view of the life of a young German living in poverty in Hitler's Germany. I have read a lot of Holocaust literature, but very little from the German point of view. And there is a good mixture of points of view here. You have Germans from both sides of the line -- those who would help the Jews, and those who would throw things at the helpers and scream 'Jew-lover'. Yet even the screamers have their softer sides.

Though the book is about Liesel, the book thief, one of the more interesting characters is Hans, her foster father. He is the one who makes it possible for Liesel to develop the love of books and words that eventually saves her life. He makes it possible for Liesel to love anyone at all, with his patience and compassion. And he's the subject of one of my favorite descriptions in the entire book:

'Papa sat with me tonight. He brought the accordion down and sat close to where Max used to sit. I often look at his fingers and face when he plays. The accordion breathes. There are lines on his cheeks. They look drawn on, and for some reason, when I see them, I want to cry. It is not for any sadness or pride. I just like the way they move and change. Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.'

One of the things that really made this book come alive for me is something that you won't get if you're listening to it on audio, or perhaps even reading the ebook (depending on the format). At one point, Max, the Jewish man living in Liesel's basement, paints over the pages of his copy of Mein Kampf and writes and illustrates a story for Liesel. In the book you are treated to this story, complete with the faded words of Mein Kampf in the background. It was something so minor, but so powerful for me.

There *are* aspects to the book that are weak. The whole plot line with the mayor's wife comes off as a little undeveloped, and when Liesel decides to write her own life story, it's rushed through and then forgotten in the rubble. There are a few unanswered questions that I really wish had been answered, but I guess it's those unanswered questions that keep us thinking about a book long after we've closed it. Overall, I loved it.
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LibraryThing member TheoClarke
Very few books move me to tears. This clever, knowing, novel is one of those select few. It is a tale of self-discovery and of loss. It starts and ends with bereavements and, as is only to be expected when the narrator is the personification of Death, there is much here about mortality. But the
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losses are not simply those of life; the characters lose their dignity, their possessions, and their self-esteem too. They also lose some of their limitations and learn great things of themselves. And all this happens in a comic story of coming of age, of bravery, of love unrequited, and of great loyalty, and self-sacrifice.
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LibraryThing member YAbookfest
At the end of this novel, Death, who is the narrator, tells us “I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.” This is an excellent, concise review of The Book Thief. It is about a terrible time and place in the
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world, Hitler’s Germany. Yet it is also about a young girl coming of age, the beauty of her relationships and the birth of her creativity. War, death, love, loss, abandonment and the power of words are the major themes woven through the story but strands of humor throughout prevent it from becoming grim.

In a small town outside of Munich, nine-year old Liesel is brought to a foster home because her mother is too ill to care for her children. Liesel’s brother dies in route. At the burial, she grabs a book hidden in the snow, a grave-digger’s handbook. It is a sad souvenir, but her first connection with the written word.

Liesel is taken in by grouchy Rosa and gentle Hans, a poor but noble man who tries to side-step the Nazi’s edicts. While his own son calls him a coward, there is no doubt that Hans shows great courage when he hides Max, a young Jew, in the basement. Zusak makes it clear how difficult it was for good people stand against the Nazi tide and how the Germans, too, suffered.

Zusak is a master of character development, created largely through the constantly evolving relationships Liesel has with her foster parents, Max, her close friend Rudy, and several neighbors. He artfully teaches us that people are not always who they seem to be. Even Death, who is at first sardonic, becomes a character who wins our empathy.

One of the key themes is the power of words. Hans and Liesel bond as he teaches her to read. Liesel steals books and reads for comfort, which she shares with others. On the other hand, Hitler’s barrage of words is his first weapon. How fitting that Zusak’s language is so powerful. The imagery is so rich, so unusual, that one has to stop to take in its full meaning.

[The Book Thief] is categorized as being for young adults, but in spite of the fact that the main character is an adolescent, this novel will certainly appeal to adult readers. I think it is suitable for older teens, particularly those studying World War II or the Holocaust.
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LibraryThing member meggyweg
I can honestly say this is one of the best books I've read in my entire life. When I was done I felt like I'd been hit over the head -- in a good way. I was stunned by the beauty of its tragedy, and the writing was droolingly beautiful. To give an example: when talking about the Battle of
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Stalingrad, it said it was fought under a winter sky as white as a bedsheet, and every day that sheet got soaked in blood and every night it was bleached white again and wrung out for the next morning. That is some wonderful, mouth-watering imagery, and it's one of dozens in this story.

The "Death" narration was unique, and the perspective -- the Holocaust as seen by ordinary Germans -- was also original. This novel showed that Germany also suffered during the war, a fact many people tend to forget. I cannot praise this story enough, and especially recommend it for those studying the Holocaust or World War II. One caveat: it is very, very, very sad.
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LibraryThing member yolana
Full disclosure here; I do judge books by their covers and quite often by their titles. I miss out on a lot of great reads this way, but the way I look at it is that there are more great reads in existence than I have existence left for anyway, so no great loss there. I've never read, for instance,
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[The Corrections] because it puts me in mind of pop quizzes and I won't read [Freedom] because of a George Michael video with spoiled super models and I have never read the [The Book Thief], until now, because I had plenty of those in my life already. Every friend, acquaintance and family member who 'borrowed' a book, in fact. Luckily I had some down time away from home and nothing with me but a kindle so I bought it because it was cheap (five bucks and well worth every penny) and I was bored.

The book does have a lot of book thievery. It begins with a little girl stealing a book about burying the dead and ends with Death stealing a book about the life of little girl. I could kick myself for not reading it sooner. This book is allegedly for a young-adult audience but it reads more like literary fiction that high schoolers could enjoy as well.

Zusak grabs the reader's attention immediately with his choice of narrator, Death, and he keeps it by making him very charming and really kind of funny. In Death's words this is a book “about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter and quite a lot of thievery.” A simple story about what makes us human.

The girl is Liesel Meminger, an orphan whose greatest joys and greatest sorrows in life come from words. The words used to label her father a communist, the rhetoric of Hitler, the words she flings like knives to wound someone who has hurt her and the words in the books she steals that help her cope with the horrors of Nazi Germany. Her foster father, the accordionist, teaches her to read using her first stolen book, The Grave Digger' Handbook, at the age of ten and from then on she's unstoppable. Whenever she's under stress she copes by stealing a book. While stealing gives her a sense of control over her life her true love is language and literature.

There is so much to love about this book.

Every character in the novel is so believable that you would recognize them instantly if they ever walked down your street. Papa, Hans Huberman, a decent man who keeps his promises regardless of the cost to himself, The great-hearted, and ill-tempered and foul-mouthed Rosa Huberman, Max Vandenburg, the hidden Jew who gave Liesel two of her most precious books and most of all Liesel's best friend Rudy Steiner, a vivid, funny, life-loving boy who breaks Death's heart. Even the secondary characters are finely drawn.

And then there is the irresistible prose. In Death's diary he notes of the aftermath of the bombing of Cologne: 'Five hundred souls. I carried them in my fingers, like suitcases. Or I'd throw them over my shoulder. It was only the children I carried in my arms.' And when Liesel finally kisses Rudy, who'd been in love with her for years: 'Liesel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees...'

Not least of all, of course, is the story itself, of the beauty of ordinary lives in extraordinary times. The love, kindness and loyalty that enables people to to maintain their humanity in the face of brutality, and makes them immortal. People remembered by fondly by Death himself.
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LibraryThing member John
I agree with others who have noted that this book is misclassified in the young adult fiction section of most bookstores; not that young adults would not benefit hugely from reading it, but so would any adult who picks it up. I suppose the classification comes from the fact that Zusak has written
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other, young adult fiction pieces, and the writing style in The Book Thief is very simple….my gosh, it even has pencil drawings in it! Do not be fooled: this story, told by Death as the narrator, about a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany, is full of big themes that resonate more for the simplicity of their presentation.

Liesel, our young heroine is given into a foster home by her mother who is a communist, not a good thing to be in Nazi Germany; her husband has already disappeared into a concentration camp; the mother is ill, can no longer provide for her daughter and knows that her own days are likely numbered either through illness or the Nazis. And so is set one of the pervasive themes of the novel: separation---separation from family, from friends, and under the Nazis, from a sense of right, of justice, of humanity, of sympathy, of society. But individual acts of compassion and bravery, extreme bravery, overcome these separations and remind one of the good that there can be in people. Liesel’s foster parents (a wonderful pair of characters) are dirt poor, but they agree to hide a Jewish man in their basement because Hans (the father) is obligated to the family of the man who saved his life in WWI. It is hard to imagine the gut-wrenching, daily fear this would induce and the courage that it would take to do this because it is the right thing to do.

This is a novel that deals with abandonment, racism, prejudice, understanding, honour, humanity and inhumanity, loss, recovery, obligation, friendship, the mentality of the mob versus the goodness of the individual. It is also a novel about the power of the written word, of reading, of creating something in words or pictures…about the liberating effect this has on the mind and the soul which is precisely why totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany fear it so much.

A wonderful book. Highly recommended to readers of all ages.
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LibraryThing member sexy_librarian
A brief introduction: Death is the narrator. It (for want of a better pronoun) follows with a sort of perplexed fascination the coming-of-age of the Book Thief, Liesel Meminger, the "perpetual survivor." The setting is Himmel Street, not far from Munich, during the rise and fall of the Third Reich.
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And the thing about Liesel, beyond her ability to survive, is her itching, irrepressible urge to steal books. A remarkable fact, considering she begins the book illiterate.

This might all sound a bit depressing. And it is, at times. At other times it's exceptionally funny. And touching. And mind opening. And thought provoking. I laughed, I cried. Wash, rinse, repeat, for some 550 pages. If you think that sounds a bit emotionally draining, you're not wrong. But it's worth it.

It has all the usual elements that go along with such topics: Meditations on death, musings on life; first crushes, the struggle to fit in and to get along with parents and the boy down the street; air raids, bomb shelters, Hitler, Nazis, the Holocaust (and trying to help someone survive it), the Draft; books. It may look hodgepodge, but Zusak pulls it off brilliantly. He manages to take a bunch of very familiar (should I say cliché?) ideas, mash them together, turn on the blender, and create something harmonious and utterly refreshing. All the issues and images interact, mix together, change each other, but are never incomplete ideas. The story doesn't get distracted by the war and skimp on Liesel's experiences as an adolescent. Nor the does narration lose sight of its discussion of literacy, even as Himmel Street is being bombed, even as a Jewish prizefighter hides in the basement. All these ideas have beginnings, middles and ends. That completeness of thought leads to a stronger, more complex, and more interesting read. And through it all, Zusak maintains a prose that clear, quick, and undeniably beautiful.

I feel I should mention that this book is Young Adult literature. You'll find it in the Independent Readers section at Borders. But you should hardly take that to heart. According to the bookstore staff member who recommended this title to me (bless her) while I was wandering about the children's section, looking lost (no seriously, bless her), The Book Thief is most requested by adults. More often than not, they're members of book clubs who get confused when they can't find that month's selection in any of the usual places. So get that - a kids' book regularly dissected (to varying degrees of quality) by a group of adults drinking coffee.

So all I can say is, never be embarrassed to shop in the children's section - half the stuff there is better than half the trash they sell to grown-ups. And read The Book Thief.
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LibraryThing member kmaziarz
Death himself narrates this affecting tale of a young orphan coming of age in Nazi Germany amidst the horrors of World War II. Young Liesl Meminger has lost everything. Her mother, unable to take care of her, has given her to foster parents in a town outside of Munich. On the way, her young brother
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died in front of her, a scene that will repeat itself in her nightmares for years to come. Once ensconced with the Hubermanns, her new Mama and Papa, Liesl will never see her mother again. Luckily for Liesl, her foster parents are kind, even the sharp-tongued, loud-mouthed and imposing Rosa, her new Mama. But it is the men in Liesl’s life…Hans, the kind, accordion-playing Papa who teaches Liesl to read when her nightmares become too strong; Max, a sensitive young Jewish man whom the Hubermanns are hiding in their basement; and Rudy, a wild young neighborhood rogue who swiftly becomes Liesl’s best friend…who will begin the healing process even as bombs fall around them and Jewish prisoners are marched through their town.

Liesl’s sole comfort, outside of these men who love her, is the books she steals and reads obsessively and continually…taking something back, as she and Rudy think of their thievery. Finally, after a variety of new tragedies strike Liesl and her neighbors over the course of the war, Liesl decides it is time to write her own book, telling the story of her young life. Ultimately, it is the writing of this book that will save her, in more ways than one.

A moving meditation on the power of words and the ability of story to explain even the most inexplicable of tragedies and heal even the deepest of wounds, “The Book Thief” is a new classic of Holocaust literature.
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LibraryThing member TeriHogg
It's not often that Death spins a story so profound that you wish and hope he won't stop. So is the case in this breathtakingly beautiful story set in Nazi Germany during WW ll about a young girl hungering to read so much that she risks her life to find opportunities to steal books. Liesel takes us
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on a horrifying journey of struggle through her young life from the moment she watches her brother die, her life with a foster family with their own secret of hiding a Jew, to her budding relationship with a young boy named Rudy. Along the way Death narrates his taking of souls in a poetic, often lyrical way, that the reader might read aloud the words because of their beauty alone. The story is long, but it doesn’t seem to matter because we are transported to another time and place so real that we feel we are eavesdropping in on intimate conversations and an oral history of lives lived a generation ago. While written for the young adult audience, this story will touch the heart of all ages. Highly recommended for ages 13 and up.
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LibraryThing member quigui
The setting is Germany 1939, and the narrator is Death. That was the reason I didn't read the book sooner. Didn't matter the many reviews singing its praises and telling there was humour in it. So, why did I read it? A read-along with Jen from Cuidado com o Dálmata and p7 from
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And yes, it's set during World War II, and in no way the author sugar-coated any of it. There is Death and deaths aplenty, like expected. And like all the reviews seemed to point to, it was a really good book.

The voice in which Death (and here I was expecting Terry Pratchett's DEATH) tells the story is rather unique. A mixture of satirical and resigned acceptance of the human nature. I really loved the way Death described the colour of the sky, how it changes – I think I'll never look at the sky quite in the same way.

Death also loves spoilers, and starts this book by telling the three moments she meets with Liesel, the star of this story. The first time, and this is when the story-proper begins, Liesel is 9, and she just lost her brother when they were on their way to Molching to be adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Hubermann. Liesel has her first encounter with Death, but also her first moment of thievery, for she is The Book Thief.

And so begin the adventures of Liesel in Himmel Street. Her new Mama, Rosa, is a source of new vocabulary, specially in terms of insults. Papa Hans is a wonderful man that eases this little girl into her new life, with his accordion, and late night vigils. And then there is Rudy, who dreams he is Jesse Owens and tries time and time again to win a kiss from Liesel. But there are more characters, of course. Late additions include the mayor's wife, who helps the Book Thief have access to books, in more ways than one; and Max, the Jewish fist-fighter, who comes collecting an old promise, and brightens Liesel's life. The characters are amazing, but I have a special fondness for Rudy, Hans and Max. They help Liesel, each in their own way, and each of them has their own strengths.

But let's not forget this is set in World War II. I'm not fond of that period of history, and I usually don't like literature about it. There are exceptions, of course (Everything is Illuminated is one of them, but probably because it focuses so little on WWII), and this book just joined the club. I really liked that we had a view of German families, not Jewish, and not exactly wealthy. And how some, fitting the superior race profile, didn't really care for Nazi politics.

The writing style was another thing that I also liked. It was concise (some would say choppy), but in a few words the author managed to write beautiful and so truthful sentences. I also loved the little asides, that presented the facts, or definitions, needed to continue with the story, without really breaking its flow.

I enjoyed the book a lot, a good book, I kept thinking throughout the first 9 parts of it. But it was the 10th that did it. It's tragic and sad, and for once I was glad of Death's spoilers, I could ease my heart a bit, getting ready for what was to come. Yet it caught me by surprise, and oh, how my heart ached with Liesel's. Fear not, there is a bit of an happy ending. And speaking of endings, this is a book that ends beautifully – with Death saying: “I am haunted by humans.”

Also at Spoilers and Nuts
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LibraryThing member kgriffith
Having just finished it moments ago, I don't expect to do the work justice in this review because it's still too near, but I think this may be the best book I've ever read. Even more than the story, the writing itself is indescribably enchanting. The way Zuzak demands the attention of your senses,
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creates characters you feel certain you've met, weaves humanity into the most inhumane of events... Incomparable.
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LibraryThing member sharp3
Synopsis:Liesel, is the book thief. Her first theft was The Grave Digger’s Handbook, which she stole from her brother’s graveside. After this theft, Liesel is taken to her foster family’s home on Himmel street. During the course of the book Liesel learns to read with her foster father’s
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help, makes friends with Rudi (the boy who perpetually wants a kiss), and begins to grow up in Nazi Germany. One day Liesel’s world is changed when her foster Father decides to hide a Jew named Max in her basement. During the course of his concealment Max and Liesel share their grief and inexplicable rage/sorrow forging a bond of words and friendship that would outlast all the bombs and beatings that Nazi Germany would throw at them. The longer Liesel goes without being able to articulate her grief/confusion and her secret the more she steals words- first by rescuing a book from a Nazi book burning, and then by breaking into the mayor’s wife’s library. These words sustain her through the war.Review:I was entranced by this novel from the very first page. The use of Death as a narrator was wonderfully creative and offered a refreshing point of view not typically seen in young adult books. Overall a good read for readers of all ages.
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Sydney Taylor Book Award (Winner — 2007)
Kentucky Bluegrass Award (Nominee — Grades 9-12 — 2008)
National Jewish Book Award (Winner — 2006)
Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Winner — 2006)
Indies Choice Book Award (Winner — Children's Literature — 2007)
Green Mountain Book Award (Nominee — 2009)
British Book Award (Shortlist — Newcomer — 2008)
Garden State Teen Book Award (Winner — Grades 9-12 — 2009)
Thumbs Up! Award (Honor — 2007)
Colorado Blue Spruce Award (Nominee — 2009)
Virginia Readers' Choice (Nominee — High School — 2008)
Printz Award (Honor — 2007)
Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (Winner — 2007)
Rhode Island Teen Book Award (Nominee — 2008)
Sakura Medal (High School — 2007)
Ena Noël Award (Winner — 2008)
Sophie Brody Medal (Honorable Mention — 2007)
Best Fiction for Young Adults (Selection — 2007)
Read Aloud Indiana Book Award (High School — 2006)
The Big Jubilee Read (2005 — 2002-2011)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

560 p.; 7.8 inches


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