Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

July 26, 2007

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Madeleine and I have both read The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, but not with our whole mother daughter book club yet. I can’t wait until it’s our turn to pick the next book so we can suggest it. My husband has read it too, and we all thought it was one of the best books we’ve ever read. It’s a tall order for three people whose taste in books doesn’t always match.

The Book Thief deals with heavy subject matter—it’s set in Nazi Germany and is narrated by Death—but the story is so compelling I found myself savoring every page and reading slowly so it wouldn’t come to an end. I’ve never read a fictional book about the daily lives of ordinary people in Germany during World War II, and that is certainly part of what made The Book Thief so interesting.

The main character is Liesel Meminger, a 9-year-old girl sent with her brother to live with foster parents when her father is arrested for communism and her mother expects she will soon follow. Her brother dies on the trip to the foster home, and Liesel steals her first book from the man who digs her brother’s grave. She settles into the household of Hans and Rosa Hubermann and makes a new life in a town very near Munich.

War is everywhere around them—from book burnings, to Hitler youth meetings, to Jews marching through the streets on their way to concentration camps, to food rationing to bombing by Allied planes. And Death narrates the events of Liesel’s life dispassionately, but with wonderful details and with the kind of foreshadowing that made even the hardest events of the book easier to read.

The Book Thief is a rarity among books—a truly original tale that I intend to read again and again. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with high-school aged daughters.

Click here to read an interview Madeleine and I conducted with author Markus Zusak.

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Book Review: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

July 18, 2007

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I’m back after a nice, long, recharging trip to Italy. The whole family went—me and my husband and our two daughters—and  we survived 3-1/2 weeks of 24-hour togetherness better than any of us would have guessed. We weren’t the only ones who decided to travel to Italy this summer; every place we went was pretty packed with tourists. And while we were right in with them at the most popular sights, we were also able to find a few quiet, out-of-the-way gems that kept us recharged.

While my daughters both read avidly the whole time we were gone, I only squeezed in two books. One of those was Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. Uglies was on the list for all of us this summer, and somehow I got it first. I was transported into the world of main-character Tally immediately. Tally is about to turn 16 and can’t wait for the day she goes for the surgery that will make her pretty for the rest of her life. Her best friend Peris has already changed, because he’s a few weeks older than she is, and Tally is lonely waiting for her turn.

Then she meets Shay, who takes her on adventures outside their city. Shay claims to know of a place where kids run away to before they become pretty. And she’s unsure of whether she wants to be pretty or not.

This futuristic world had lots of innovations it was fun to read about—hoverboards for transportation, holes in the wall that spit out new clothes—but it also had a controlling dark side. I recommend it as a good book to generate discussion about the importance of beauty and conformity in any society. You should probably pick it up with the intention of reading the whole series though. Uglies sets up the sequel, Pretties, which also sets up the third book, Specials.