I just went back to my book journal to check out my reaction upon first read – I LOVED this book, I really thought it was terrific. It was also got a lot of love it or hate it reactions from my book circle folks, some people who generally have tastes very similar to mine HATED it.
Why I love it - I think it’s so well written, I like that Liesel isn’t a terribly likeable protagonist, yet over the course of the book I ended up becoming extremely empathetic toward her. I was impressed with the narrative device of having Death as a character, and one that manages to be funny without taking away from the horror of what is going on. I ugly-cried through the entire last 1/3, for sure, but I thought the book came by that honestly. It is about the Holocaust. If it had gone for uplifting, it would have seemed trite and manipulative. I have seen it criticized for being sentimental, which I can see but don’t completely agree with. It’s sad because it’s sad; I did not find it to be mawkish.
Should it be YA - I’m not even sure why this was marketed as YA, other than the fact that I think kids 12 and up would be fine reading it – hey, we read The Diary of Anne Frank in 8th grade, and were shown Shoah and Nuit Et Brouillard in high school. My biggest issue with this trending to YA is that I think having a more sophisticated context for the Holocaust and WWII shores up a lot of emotional impact of this novel. Probably the biggest “fit” for the YA category is the ongoing presentation of people managing to find small ways to take stands, so you can see that being a good essay question for 8th graders. I’m not saying it takes it out of the running for mainstream (adult) fiction, but it’s a very, very entrenched theme in YA these days.
I have not seen the movie.
I hate it when people won’t spoil things when I ask them to, so here is a very basic gist of where the book ends up – with the caveat that I read this when it first came out and the details aren’t very fresh in my mind.
Liesel survives, and it’s briefly mentioned she goes on to have emigrate out of Germany and have a more normal life. There’s very little detail, basically the book just ends with a mention that she goes on.
Max does end up in the camps, but survives and manages to find Liesel after the war.
Rudy does NOT survive, and it is awful and I thought I was going to choke to death on my own snot while reading, yet it was one of those extremely satisfying fiction-inspired cry fests, for me at least. OMG.