A girl name Liesel Meminger, not yet out of puberty, is sent to foster care in Nazi Germany. She is taken into the wing of an old couple – a man who paints house for a living and his loud-mouthed wife with a big heart.
Under their care, the girl comes of age as she meets a wide assortment of people – there is Rudy, her best buddy and stealing cohort; the mayor’s wife, a forlorn woman who encourages her to steal; and Max, a Jew who hides on her Papa and Mama’s basement.
This is the plot of The Book Thief written by Markus Zusak. The story is narrated by Death itself, the taker of souls who, we discover, has a conscience as we turn page after page.
The premise is dark but don’t be deterred by this. It’s not as gloomy as you may think it is. There are light and comic moments like Rudy painting charcoal all over his body to copy a favorite athlete who is black, or Liesel and Rudy vomiting after gobbling apples they stole, or Rudy lightly begging for a kiss.
The climax is restrained and bittersweet. But, I warn you, the ending punches you the way Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby knocks you out senseless. This book is a knockout. One of the best I’ve read.