I've long said that books don't make me cry. They don't! The Olympics, yes. Kodak commercials, yes. But books? Never.
So The Book Thief is set in a town outside Munich during World War II, near enough to see the Jews and Communists march by on their way to Dachau. The protagonist is a young girl for whom storiesbooksbecome a lifeline. She has secrets and friends and secret friends. There are villains, big and small. Words are used as a sword and a shield. The sky is white or gray or yellow.
It's a story told by Deatha convention that might seem gimmicky in other hands; I could describe Zusak's style better if I knew how to make an adjective out of the word "Vonnegut." Death doesn't like surprises, apparently: He tells exactly what's going to happen to whom, in the pages aheadbut somehow you feel compelled to find out why and how, in spite of the dread. Zusak triumphs in presenting a heartbreaking and haunting work without resorting to the blatant emotional manipulation of a twist ending or artificially prolonged denouement.
Marketed as a novel for adults in the author's native Australia, The Book Thief may be missed by adults in the US due to Knopf's decision to market it here as a book for teens. This is unfortunate. I can't imagine processing the full richness and poverty of this story without the benefit of hindsight, or without having paid the cost of experience.
It's the kind of book that makes it hard to choose a next book, because it stays with you for days.
Oh, and about the crying? Never say never...