There are those among the adult population who may feel that novels written originally for the young adult would not make for particularly entertaining or thoughtful reading, a sentiment that I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically disagree with. Quite the contrary, I have found many to be incredibly insightful and captivating, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak epitomizes such a work. An intense tale, the focus is a young girl, a mere nine years of age when we first meet her, named Liesel Miminger and her experiences during World War II in Molching, a small town in the environs of Munich, Germany, and while this may seem a bit overdone, there are several aspects of this story that set it apart.
The narration, firstly, is held by none other than Death itself, and I found myself taken completely by surprise by how congenial Death was. To demonstrate:
“Here is a fact. You are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic…Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that’s just the A’s. Just don’t ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.”
Death seems to be a narrator the reader can trust, which is certainly not always the case, both with the character of Death and the narrator in general throughout literature, and Death maintains a constant tone throughout the book that creates a sense of comfort.
In terms of observations, Death ranks among the finest of observers. When, for example, ruminating on war and the battlefield, Death says of the soldiers:
“I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They’re running at me.”
And it is through Death’s observations that the reader is given a sense that Death is actually gentle in the execution of its duties and has a much gentler nature than is generally portrayed.
Finally, in the realm of adult literature, war stories tend to be related by soldiers or other adult civilians. With the primary figure of this war novel being a young girl, the effect is decidedly different. When children are involved, war quickly loses whatever romance it might have been able to conjure with concepts such as valor, honor, and victory, and when the violence of war boils over and results in such “collateral damage,” one begins to lose a certain sense of who is in the right and who is in the wrong.
The Book Thief is only one example of the sort of young adult literature that successfully spans the gulf between the adult and younger reader. Other titles in this category include:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Eli the Good by Silas House
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Looking for Alaska by John Green