Seriously: The Book Thief. Read it read it read it.
Here's the back cover:
It is 1939, Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
Here are some things I loved about The Book Thief:
- Death is the narrator. (!)
- It's set in Nazi Germany and is not particularly about Jews, which is somewhat rare as these things go, and very interesting besides.
- Hans Hubermann.
- Rudy Steiner.
This is a gorgeous big book, beautiful and sad. You have to understand that lots of loved people die over the course of the narrative. The wrong people, if you will. That's war, I guess.
The characters are brilliantly realized -- Liesel is so Liesel, Hans is so Hans, Rosa is so Rosa. And the writing is stunning. I mean, there's something I want to quote in pretty much every single paragraph. And the book is 550 pages long, so there are a hecka lot of paragraphs. The chapter called "Pages from the Basement" is drawn onto painted-over sheets of Mein Kampf. The chapter called "The Hidden Sketchbook" is drawn, too, and it is heartbreaking (as is The Book Thief in general ... but it is also rather exhilarating).
This book is much less about the war than it is about the intoxicating power of words. The war is only a backdrop. The words matter.
I don't even know what else to say. I loved it.
That is all.