The book begins with narration from “death”. That’s right, death tells us the story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief. “Death” likes to use colors to describe much of what he sees. I just finished the book and I’d like to describe it in colors for you now: The beginning is gray with smattering of tan. The middle goes from beige to dark brown. The ending is black.
I’m always on the lookout for good books to read. I first heard about this book on a secular blog. I was intrigued by how the blog author said this book affected her, how it moved her. She said it was about a girl who steals books during WWII in Nazi Germany. That piqued my interest. I just love a good story! I love to be moved by a story, I love to see things from a new perspective. However, I am a Christian in all that I do. I’m not perfect, but I strive to live a consecrated life. I do my best not to read, or listen, or watch things that would defile my mind. This book crosses that line for me. I know that I am IN the world, but not OF it. I am not staying here forever, but I am here now. I will see and hear things that don’t always line up with my views. That’s fine, I don’t go around bullying people to do right. At the same time, I don’t want to jump in the muck and swim around in it if I don’t have to. I feel that I unwittingly did just that when I got this book.
Why did I finish the story? Because I wanted to see if it redeemed itself. I wanted to be able to give this review of the book and I couldn’t do that without reading it.
As I dove into the story, I couldn’t believe that this book was in the Young Adult (YA) section of my library! I wasn’t prepared to see the curtain ripped back in this fashion for young people. Adults can handle the harshness, they understand better how to cope with hellish violence that can happen in the world. That doesn’t mean that adults aren’t affected, but they are simply better equipped. I didn’t expect the harshness of this book to be equal to that of an adult novel. I couldn’t tell you how many times God’s name was used in vain – too many! Not to mention regular curse words and crude language. It’s replete with it. And the grief and sorrow…well, I was emotionally crippled yesterday when I came to the last page. I understand that much, if not all, of what the author wrote was true historically. But it was a novel! He could have sprinkled in a bit of hope, a bit of light and a few more pastel colors in the picture. But his picture was dark. Hey, it was Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and 40s, probably the bleakest time in modern history. I get it. I just don’t get why a 13 year old needs to get that? There are books about tough topics that aren’t quite so heavy. Number the Stars is one example. The Giver is another. There are many good books that package truth with a bow of hope. I have read Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, and while it exposed the Holocaust’s harsh reality, it left the filth in the gutter.
Now that I think about it, that’s what’s missing from The Book Thief! The presence of Christ is nowhere. The help of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of a God who loves sinners is noticeably absent. Perhaps Mr. Zusak himself doesn’t know of the hope that awaits those who are saved, the hope of Heaven. In the book, “death” whisks away souls and takes them – somewhere. But the reality is that as horrific and heinous as the Holocaust was, it has nothing on the fires of Hell. Likewise, for the believer, a great and glorious moment occurs after death: to see Jesus face to face! I wish I could tell Liesel about that. That would change everything for her.
There are a few glimpses of good in this book. I appreciate how Mr. Zusak demonstrated that Hitler swayed people by words. That’s all. He didn’t hold a gun on them or force them to do his will in any way, he just talked right. Words are powerful! I also appreciate that Nazism is clearly the villain in the story. Also, the characters, as harsh as he made them out to be, are, at least, consistent. There was no shocking “change over” in anyone. There were slight shifts, but nothing unrealistic. There was plenty of foreshadowing and metaphors in the book, which certainly forces you to think. But to me, the negative outweighs the positive.
I suppose it’s not a shock to hear I won’t be letting my teens read this book. Perhaps I’m trying to shelter them too much. Eh, maybe. Why not? Don’t you think parents in Nazi Germany would have sheltered their children from the world around them if they could have? Of course! I can, so I will. When the time comes for them see the truth of how evil overcame Europe for a decade, and the extent of that evil, I will choose other books to give them that information. And if reality ever becomes as hideous as it was back then, I will tell my children to look up, trust in God, and lean upon Him for hope. He alone can turn black, feathery ashes into something beautiful.