The Book Thief Readalong: Week Four

October 25, 2013 2013, australian authors, markus zusak, readalong, the book thief, Wendy 65


Welcome to the final week of our readalong of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which each of us has read for the first time in preparation for the upcoming film.

We’ve had somewhat mixed feelings about the book overall, but we’ve come to appreciate some of the things our fellow readers have been raving about, and the experience of reading together and discussing with you has certainly been enjoyable.
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The Book Thief Readalong: Week Four

Pages 404 – end

Wendy: I would like to taste a Kipferl cookie. It seems like it would be good dipped in cocoa. I am writing this right after jumping in on a middle grade lit chat that was all about book food, so I’m a little obsessed. 

Kate: When I was a kid I wanted to open a restaurant where I would only sell cookies and coke. And guess what I had for lunch today? Obviously I, too, would like to try these cookies.

Wendy:  I have to admit to occasionally being charmed by phrases such as “As she crossed the river, a rumor of sunshine stood behind the clouds.”  

Kate: Oh, that’s a good one. I liked that, too.
Wendy: The scene with the downed plane was well done. If Death would just limit his presence to scenes like those, I’d appreciate this so much more.
Kate: I liked that, too. Did the list of things in Rudy’s toolbox or whatever feel twee to you? I’m curious whether the narrator’s voice, which is super masculine, made it seem silly when it would not have otherwise.
Wendy:  A bit, yes. And the teddy bear for the soldier was sweet, but at the same time I felt very aware that it was supposed to be and therefore I dug my heels in at it a bit. I’m just contrary that way.
Kate: That’s part of what bothered me about the list of things in the tool box. The explanation for the inclusion of the teddy bear felt suspect.
Wendy:  Agreed. Here’s The End of the World, Part I.  EVERYONE IS DEAD. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that Liesel is saved because she was reading, Mr. Zusak. The power of words, I know, I know.
Kate: Speaking of that, I cringed at “…the words who had saved her life,” partially because earlier he’d said the sky was dripping “Like a tap that a child has tried its hardest to turn off,” and the idea that the words are people but this hypothetical simile child is not really bothers me for some reason.
Wendy:  “The words who” bothered me in that phrase. I don’t know if it was deliberate phrasing–I guess so, but I don’t like it.

I hate that Mama and Papa die, but I do like the scene where Death takes them. But then it annoys me that right after we see that, then we’re jerked back to an earlier time before he’s dead. I don’t understand the purpose of shifting back and forth in this way, especially at this point. It makes me angry.
K: Well, Death says it himself that he lets us know beforehand to soften the blow, as some of our friends have commented, but the story isn’t done yet so he has to go back and tell the rest of it. I don’t necessarily agree with all the jerking back and forth but I suppose it did give me a minute to accept the sad, terrible truth and prepare my heart for the ache to come. Still though!!
Wendy:  I get it, he’s spelled out what he’s doing very clearly. I just don’t like it, hah.
K: Totally agree. And I absolutely LOVED the scenes of Death taking their souls. All of the scenes. How Frau Holtzapfel was almost “waiting.” And Rudy just sleeping!! And how Death caressed Rudy’s mother’s head and kissed the little ones good night. How Hans’ soul sat up and greeted him. How Rosa was midsnore. It was terrible and tragic but…not beautiful…just…somehow made it easier to let them go, knowing Death isn’t this cold, unfeeling thing. That he has some sympathy. That they were being carried off by someone or something that knew them and tried to understand them.
Kate: Yeah, except that earlier when there was a bombing he said that “It was only the children I carried in my arms.” He said he carried the grownups on his fingers like suitcases or something. He didn’t know who Mama and Papa were at the time; why did he carry each of them in one arm like they were special? When I look back on my life so far, I can remember so many little kindnesses people did me without my even realizing how important they were at the time. It’s almost overwhelming to think about how basically good in so many tiny ways everyone is, and Death carried them like suitcases? I find this upsetting.

Wendy:  Huh. I didn’t think about that at the time, but I wonder why that differentiation was made, too.
K: The image of Rosa sitting and gripping Hans’ accordion. I will be Rosa’s spokeswoman for as long as she needs me to root for her.
Kate: I get why this is emotionally resonant. I get the appeal of the grizzled, seemingly hard-hearted old person who is all mushy on the inside. I also cannot forget that Rosa beat a terrified child she was fostering. I work with a charity that helps kids who are in the foster program get adopted, and that shit is rampant and it is terrifying and it is wrong to portray a person who does it as just misunderstood or something. Not that I think you’re wrong for liking the character; she was written to be loved in spite of her gruffness. My beef is with the author.
K: No, I understand Kate. I get why you are so passionate about this particular issue.
Wendy:  I was touched by Rosa sorrowing over the accordian too, but I still have mixed feelings about her. And I’m glad to be reminded that it’s not okay to do this to a child. Human beings are so complex and there’s no telling how she came to be this way; I would like to have seen more nuance and back story and development in Rosa, but as is, I remain not as much of a champion of hers as I think I would like to be.
Kate: I feel like I’m coming across as lecturing you about child abuse being a bad thing, which obviously is not a thing you need to be preached at about. It’s kind of impotent anger because I cannot lecture the author directly. I wish that Rosa was a male character; then we might have gotten some good backstory on how she came to behave this way. I’m bitter this week, huh?
Wendy:  Probably right on that. And here’s more survivor’s guilt. Poor Michael Holtzapfel.
Kate:  Dude. That was really sad.
K: Yea. That one really struck me. When he said he felt ashamed for wanting to live after he had left his mother in her kitchen, I felt the parallel with Max, though their situations differed, they still walked away from someone: Max from his family when he chose to escape, and Michael leaving his mother when he chose to take shelter.

And Michael’s mother after finding his body…how “she could no longer walk.” This, too, uses the same imagery to parallel Liesel’s mother after her brother died. Death wonders how she could still be standing upright, or something of that nature.
Kate: Michael’s mother. Oh man. The stuff about that family was rough.
Wendy:  Yes, it was. Oh, the scene when Liesel and Max see each other on the street! :( But you know, realistically he probably would have been killed (and maybe she, too) right after that.
Kate: I know. This last section really suffered from the lack of Max. He’s my favorite part of the story, so once he was there I wanted him to stay.
Wendy:  Agree wholeheartedly. The sections we’ve covered in weeks two and three have been my favorites of this readalong because of that, as well as plot-wise and writing-wise.
K: And Rudy coming to rescue her. I kept going back to the line way back after he rescued her book in the Amper River…how he “must have loved her so hard.” RUDY!! With this boy, this book is literally wringing my heart for all the tears it’s worth. Seriously. At the back of my copy, Zusak confesses that Rudy is his favourite character; how as soon as Rudy painted himself black and called himself Jesse Owens, Rudy had stolen his heart. Mine too, gosh darn it.
Wendy:  I’m not surprised he’s the author’s favorite character–that seems pretty apparent from the huge build-up and martrydom. Although I admit his death did not happen in the manner that I expected, I thought it’d be more of a standalone event.
Kate: He’s pretty great. And yes, his role as Zusak’s favorite is pretty obvious. I cared much less about whether or not Rudy got a kiss than the author did, I’ll tell you that.
Wendy:  I cared at first, but it was pointed out so much that he wasn’t going to get it, that I stopped caring. Man, I sound so cold-hearted, but while I was very sorry he died, I was already so numb to it that I didn’t cry. But this:

She was saying goodbye, and she didn’t even know it.

K: Okay, seriously, my heart cannot take this.
Wendy:  I have to say, I really don’t like this part, though.

“Don’t make me happy….I don’t want to hope for anything anymore. I don’t want to pray that Max is alive and safe. Or Alex Steiner. Because the world does not deserve them.”

I understand technically what the author is trying to achieve by this, that she no longer cares about life and feels if they can’t survive, as good as they are, etc, etc., but I felt this was a bit of an over-reaching sentiment for her age, at least expressed in those words. I don’t know, I felt manipulated more than affected by the statement.
Kate:  I think part of the problem for me with Liesel’s voice is that she kind of jumps from age 11 to age 14, you know? She was just learning to read a few chapters ago, and there is nothing in there to really show us a difference between her behavior then and now. She still does all the same things, only now she has tingly feelings for Rudy and she speaks and writes like she’s composing…I don’t know, Beowulf or something. 

Wendy: You’re right about that. It’s a big leap from being illiterate to being able to articulate such complex and poetic thoughts.

Kate:  So, “The Last Letter” to Mrs. Hermann. It… Hmm. How to say. It does not feel like a letter a human would write to another human. Right?
K: Haha, Kate, what do you mean? I think if anything it might have been just a tad too intuitive and poetic for a fourteen year old to write.
Kate: Yeah, that’s kind of what I mean. It’s pretty poetic for a quick little note. I mean, she wrote it on an impulse, quickly and with passion, but it doesn’t read that way.

Wendy: Oh, we’re in agreement on this. It seems carefully thought out, and not really natural. Maybe that’s part of what I can’t grasp about Liesel, too–as much as I like some things about her, other actions and words just don’t seem as authentic to me.
Kate:  Death’s ability to tell us things about Rudy based on what he (Death) remembers seeing in his (Rudy’s) soul when he died is a good example of confusing omniscience. Why hasn’t he told us about the other souls? Why don’t we have all that information?
Wendy:  One of many. *sigh*

Kate:  You save someone. You kill them. How was he supposed to know? I really liked this. I am one of those people who TOIL, Sliding Doors-style, over which choice will lead to better things ultimately, and which things I’ve done in the past have led me to good or bad places in my life.

Wendy:  I tend to ruminate over that sort of thing, too. And I am glad that Max and Liesel were able to find each other after all those years. 

This ending line is also lovely, though again, it also illustrates my struggle with the book as well. Beautiful words, but lending emotion to Death in a way that I both liked and disliked throughout the story, so that what’s meant to be profound leaves me appreciative, but not necessarily as deeply moved as I’m meant to be.
I am haunted by humans.
Wendy: So, let’s finish this discussion with how you’d rate the book. I’m at 3.5 stars, but on GoodReads I would be rounding down rather than up. Honestly, if it weren’t for “The Standover Man” that Max wrote for Liesel, it’d be 3 stars. A lot of great ideas and themes in this book and there are moments of true beauty, but overall I felt pretty let down. Sorry, Book Thief fans! I feel bad that I didn’t connect with this more, but it’s one of those cases where the writing style just didn’t mesh well with me. Oh, well.
Kate: I’d rate this 3 stars. I think that the primary reason this book didn’t really work for me is that stories told from a child’s perspective are poignant in large part because the child doesn’t understand the deeper meanings behind what is going on. It is crucial that the person hearing or reading the story be able to discover that poignancy herself, otherwise it doesn’t really mean anything. I think that the way this story is told–with the flowery explanations of everything–destroys the heart of it. Death as a narrator feels like a gimmick of an idea that this sweet little story got shoehorned into. That said, the last few pages were lovely. While I did not cry at the end, I can understand why so many people did. I wish more of the book had been told in the nice, straightforward style of that final section.

K: I would rate it 3.5. The writing style was my biggest issue. It stood in between almost all feelings I might have developed for the characters and the plot. Saying that, the more this book marinated in my mind and eventually my heart, it began to seep inside me and it bled all over. The final parts of this book did me in and I felt the emotions I’d been craving the entire book. (Though to be honest, some of that might also be the adrenaline of finishing a book and all the stress of such a tragic story evokes). So overall, it wasn’t the story I was hoping for but I am not sorry I read it in the least. In fact, I think I might even grow to love it after a second read — might. 

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What did you think of the book?

As always, please let us know in the comments!

Frankly, it’s been a little scary hosting this readalong once we realized that the three of us weren’t going to be as in love with it as so many others seem to be. Still, all three of us have found things to appreciate about the story and the characters, and I think we’re in agreement that we’re glad we’ve read it, and that we read it together. And it looks like K may even find room in heart for this book to expand even further!

Thank you SO much to all of you for being so patient with our questions, and to those who love the book especially for listening to our point of view. We appreciate the discussion more than we can say.

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65 Responses to “The Book Thief Readalong: Week Four”

  1. Rachelia (Bookish Comforts)

    Just finished reading this last night, and I felt pretty bad that I didn’t “get” the book somehow or loved it as hard as others. But in reading all your read-a-long posts I was nodding my head in total agreement. I liked the book, but many of the things that bugged all of you were also grating on my nerves at times. I actually think I may enjoy the movie more than the book. I would love for you to review the movie if you get a chance!
    Rachelia (Bookish Comforts) recently posted…{Giveaway} The Book Thief Film Adaptation!

      • Wendy Darling

        No, I haven’t read that yet–thank you for the recommendation! And wow, it has extremely high ratings on GoodReads. If you had similar feelings about Book Thief as we did but found this book moving, I definitely have to check it out.

    • Wendy Darling

      I think this is one case where I’ll probably like the movie more than I like the book as well, Rachelia. It hasn’t gotten great reviews, but from what I understand, Death seems to take more of a back seat, so that’s a plus for me! I’m sorry you were disappointed by it as well, but I’m glad we’re not alone in our mixed feelings about it, hah. I “get” the book, the author just didn’t persuaded me to feel as deeply as I think he meant to.

      We haven’t gotten around to doing bookish movie reviews here yet, but maybe someday? It’d be fun. :)

  2. Ann

    I haven’t read The Book Thief yet, but am really looking forward to it. So sorry you guys didn’t seem to enjoy as much as I thought you would.

  3. Josiphine

    Aww, I’m sad that you didn’t like this as much as you wanted! I just had a similar experience with ALL OUR YESTERDAYS. I wanted to love it so much, but it didn’t happen.

  4. Kim

    It only took almost a week but I made it! Phew. Silly life. Getting in the way of Online Book Land.

    I’m glad you all at least *liked* the book overall, if not loved. I certainly understand the reasons why it just didn’t click/connect.

    Re-reading it was such a strange experience for me. I mean, I first read this when I was 22, fresh out of college where I was a history major with a penchant for taking classes about wars. This was a hands down, completely in love, life changing experience. I had a post-it on my desk at work for years that said “Be like Hans” I’m not even kidding. It changed my outlook on life and made me want to be a better person.

    Re-reading it now was like some sort of bizarre through the looking glass experience. I think I was expecting it to be the same and I understand now that it couldn’t be. I’ve been through so, so much since I first read the book. I’m a different person in many ways. That tremendous emotional impact just wasn’t there.

    I do feel grateful that I had no expectations going into it or any huge amount of pressure from fans to like it (I’m sorry for being that person to you!) the first time I read this. It was just a book that caught my eye one day in an airport bookstore. Years later I saw it on a shelf in my local bookstore and picked it up. The rest was history. I’ve only recently gotten involved in Online Book Land and I was somewhat surprised to see how amazingly popular it is. On places like Tumblr it’s almost overwhelming.

    I think books affect us differently depending on many factors like age, life experience, mental and emotional state…even less obvious things like the time of the year, I think, can certainly affect me at least. Also, I was reading this in bits and portions, sneaking it in when I wasn’t reading whatever the main book I was reading at the moment and I kept just feeling anxious to get back to Reading Priority #1. Ugh, I hate that. When you’re reading but you keep getting distracted by something you want to read more!

    I think it was just the right book for then-me at the right time. It couldn’t be the same for me this time because this book already changed me for the better. How often does a book actually accomplish that? I think it’s rare indeed and I’m just so grateful that I experienced it even once.

    Thanks for being such gracious hosts throughout all this. I’m sure it wasn’t easy once you realized it wasn’t going to be a love fest. I had a great time discussing with all of you :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Kim! I was so worried we’d finally scared you off or offended you after this last post when we didn’t hear from you. I don’t think I’m alone in waiting around to see what you had to say this week, hah.

      I absolutely agree that some books come into our lives at exactly the right time, and our reading experience can be colored by so many different factors. I am pretty good about separating hype from books when I read, so the “pressure to love” was more feeling disappointed in not connecting with the book more or feeling a though I was letting fans down more than having unrealistic, unmet expectations. But yeah, the book has a pretty solid following, it’s kind of interesting to see how long it’s been on bestseller lists.

      I’m glad that you loved it then, and glad that it will always hold a special place in your heart. (So sweet that you had a “be like Hans” reminder to yourself, too! Aw.) No one person’s reading experience should ever invalidate someone else’s, and I’m genuinely grateful that you found your way to our readalong, and thank you sincerely for being so gracious in discussing the book with us.

      I don’t know how you found your way to us, btw, because I don’t think I’ve talked to you before? But I’ve started following you on Tumblr so we have some contact at least, I appreciate hearing your viewpoint! I’m rarely on it, though, so don’t count on seeing me around there too often. ;)

    • Kim

      Awwww, Wendy, no! Now I feel really bad! You’ll definitely never scare me off, I assure you. I was just super busy with crap stuff (job searching is the worst. The worst! *shakes first at sky*).

      I found you on GoodReads last summer! I’m fairly certain it was from your review of Partials and then I started following. I follow the blog but was just always too shy to comment. Then I saw you were doing this Book Thief readalong and I thought “Aha! A thing I can comment on! I feel confident with this.” :)

      I definitely commented somewhere in the ridiculous (in the best way) GR thread on the Dream Thieves with my “Gansey is obviously a Glendower horcrux, guys, c’mon” theory. haha.

      I’m not shy anymore, though. I’ll be commenting all over the place don’t worry. You can’t get rid of me :p

      If you want to connect on GR we certainly can though no pressure obviously.

    • Kate Bond

      Kim! There you are!

      I felt guilty for not loving this book because I didn’t want to insult people who, like you, felt so emotionally connected to it.

      The Little Prince is one of my all-time favorite books, and my second tattoo, which I got with my little sister when she turned 18, is a quote from that book. Five or six years ago I was in another state working on a political campaign, and the co-worker who was my best friend, an English dude who went on to run a hospital in Rwanda, mocked me for having a tattoo from what he thought was such a cheesy, lame book.

      I really do not want to be the crabby Englishman to your bright-eyed young idealist! Please don’t let our lack of love for this book lessen your regard for it!

  5. Wendy Darling

    One more note–I thought this article on the film was interesting.

    The Book Thief at PW

    Apparently this was originally written for adults in Australia, but was marketed for YA here in the States. (I KNEW IT.) And this, what the producers say about lessening Death’s role in the movie, absolutely applies and would have helped in the book, too.

    Percival did not want Liesel’s story to be overshadowed by a voice-over narration or the physical presence of a Death character. “I didn’t want to have Death narrating throughout the entire film,” he said, because of concerns that “it would take viewers out of the film and it might have lessened the connection with the characters.”

  6. Vivien

    Yes, you’re right. I wanted to FEEL. The end of this book was set up to make me ugly cry. But I didn’t. Not one tear. I was flabbergasted. It should. It’s SUPPOSED to. And that is my problem. There is so much disconnect, for me and I feel that it all comes down to Death. While I think it’s clever, I just don’t think it worked out for me. I want to read more of Liesel’s book.
    However, I will say that I did overall enjoy the book. Once I got past that very odd beginning. And something that doesn’t happen too often, once I finished it, I wanted to read it again. I think when I do, I might have a different reaction. There have been a few books that I enjoyed much more on the second time around. One of the most notable for me was The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis. So I will read this again.
    I’m really hoping that the movie works. I’m praying for it. It would be fantastic if it outdid (for me) the book because of the issues I had with it. I almost wish this had been an adult novel from Liesel’s point of view. Much like the movie Pan’s Labyrinth, I find the brutality can only be shown to it’s full extent with an adult ‘rating’ but shown through the more innocent eye of a child’s perspective.
    I am glad I read it. I will probably wait a while before I do read it again. I do really want to get the full experience of ‘reading’ the hardcopy and being able to view the illustrations. For me, I’ll rate this 3.5 rounding up to 4 on Goodreads.
    Great job ladies! I can’t wait for the next read-along, whether the book is good or not :) (I posted comments on all of the posts, but I was late, hopefully you caught them all, and excuse any blithering along the way.)

    • Vivien

      Also, I absolutely LOVE Gone With the Wind. I only JUST read it last year. I was almost scared to read it. My mother named me after Vivien Leigh, the actress who played Scarlett O’Hara. But I’m so glad I did. One of the most depressing novels ever. But I do love it. :randomrantover

    • Kate Bond

      Ha. My middle name is Leigh because of Vivien Leigh.

      And I agree about the Death thing feeling clever but ultimately detracting from the story. I wish that aspect of it had been edited out.

      And YES re: Pan’s Labyrinth.

    • Wendy Darling

      My heart is made of stone because I didn’t cry either Vivien! And I wanted to. It made me kind of angry that I didn’t, hah.

      And omg, I had no idea you were named after Vivien Leigh! I love her, and I loved both the book and the film. I actually had a yen to rewatch and reread both of those sometime, I’m glad you finally got around to discovering Margaret Mitchell! A shame we only have the one book.

  7. Patricia Hoffman

    This makes me wonder…from the trailers it looks like they are probably going to leave the Death construct out, right? It seems that they are going to stage it as her reading from her journal instead of having some artificial semi-omniscient third party telling us about it and letting us read from it in snippets. I feel like this movie could be one of the rare instances where the film enhances the story, lends immediacy and relatability to the somewhat distant nature of the book’s storytelling.

    • Kate Bond

      Apparently Death is in it. I have no idea to what degree or anything, but he is in there. I’d assumed he wouldn’t be, too.

      I’m fully expecting to like the film more. We’ll see…

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah, Deah is in it (I think!) but if they stage it as her reading from her journal, I would probably like that much better. Like–I would have liked the book much better if tha was the case, hah. Although I don’t love that storytelling device either.

      And agreed, I think this story would work better as a film for me.

  8. Savannah Bookswithbite

    Thanks for this readalong. Although, I didn’t get to participate, seeing your thoughts and opinions made me by the book. I’m super excited about watching the movie. Hopefully, I will have read the book.

    • Kate Bond

      It can be so hard to go back and read the book once you’ve already seen the movie. I’m curious to hear what you’d think of it, though, if you saw the movie first.

    • Wendy Darling

      I am still interested in the movie, too, despite my overall lukewarm feelings towards the book! I hope you do get a chance to read the book first, Savy–as Kate says, sometimes it’s hard to do that if you already have the movie interpretation of a character or event in your head.

  9. Keertana

    I cried at Rudy’s death. A lot. And I’m curious about how I’d rate this book, now that I’m older. I read it when I was a lot younger and the child’s voice really worked so poignantly for me. I know a lol of adults who have loved this one, but seeing you ladies hash through this so thoroughly I can see why you haven’t loved it. I’m still glad you finally read this, though!(: Zusak’s I Am the Messenger is fantastic as well, by the way! ;)

    • Kate Bond

      I would say that maturity has a lot to do with one’s enjoyment of this book, but a friend of mine who is a BRILLIANT 40-year-old playwright enjoyed it just fine, so I think that maybe that theory doesn’t work. I don’t know.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’d be curious what you think of it now, Keertana, but then again plenty of very smart adults I know have read it and loved it, too. I wonder if his writing is different in I AM THE MESSENGER? Either way, I’d probably need a bit of a rest before trying another Zusak book.

  10. Rachel

    I really am the worst read along partner for the most part. I can never stick to the schedule. It’s nice to see you ladies enjoyed the journey. I do think this book would have me in a puddle of tears in the end and I usually stay away from books like that. :)

    • Kate Bond

      K and I had a hard time with the schedule, too. For me it’s that I usually read books all at once, so spacing it out was really difficult.

    • Wendy Darling

      I like readalongs with people I know well–I don’t like it when people read ahead, generally speaking, but I was guilty of that with this book because I had a lot of others stuff going on and needed to be sure I was able to finish since we made this commitment!

      I think you’re right in saying you might like this one more than we did, Rachel.

    • K.

      Guilty, guilty. Even just replying I’m so behind. I always have a had sticking to schedules but especially here since the book so long to warm up.

  11. Karen

    I’m always afraid to read a book that is so dear to readers. I almost never feel the same way and I feel bad lol

    I just skimmed over your thoughts because I haven’t’ read the book yet but it seems that maybe the moments were heavy handed or forced so the reader feels a certain way. “This is a moment – feel sad”

    Like I said, I skimmed so maybe I interpreted your thoughts incorrectly.

    • Kate Bond

      No, you got the gist of it.

      And, yeah, books that are beloved by a large group of people are hard to speak ill of, because it feels…I don’t know, mean, I guess?

    • Wendy Darling

      You didn’t need to read all 4 weeks to understand how we felt perfectly! “Heavy-handed” and “forced” describes how a lot of the book felt, although it admittedly had some lovely moments, too. Just not enough to satisfy me. ;)

  12. Melanie

    Fabulous discussion, ladies! I’m (secretly) a little sad that you did not love this book but at least you liked it. You guys are officially not lame :) I see where you didn’t like this book, I really wish Max was in this book more when I think about it–so glad they found each other in the end. But Rudy :'( I cannot get over that.

    • Wendy Darling

      MY LAMENESS IS NO MORE. I am so thrilled, except that now there’s the lameness of not being as excited about the book as everyone else is, hah.

      Poor Rudy. I think that scene will have to be pretty effective in the movie.

  13. Lyn Kaye

    I am so happy that someone pointed out Rosa’s whole issue. I am all for the rough but sweet character, but there is a line. If you harm a small child, you are not rough, you are a monster. I understand it was a different time and place, and I know that Rosa had some great moments but… is abuse, and it never sat well with me.

    • Wendy Darling

      She never really got to the “sweet” part for me, though I did like the accordion scenes, and the fact that she didn’t blame Liesel for losing the mayor’s business. Though WHAT AM I SAYING, she should not blame her anyway. Jeez.

  14. Julie@My5monkeys

    I finally read this book and totally agree with you on all your thoughts on this book. I adored Max and Rudy . Sometimes I adored Death and others times not.

    I am glad that I read this book before the movies comes out. I have noticed that there aren’t too many books for youth during this time.

    • Wendy Darling

      Ah, you read it too, Julie! Weren’t Max and Rudy lovely? But yeah, I struggled with liking some things about Death but then hating others as well. Mostly in the “hate” column, hah.

      I’m glad I read the book first too, although this could be a case where I like the movie better. And yes, there aren’t a whole lot of MG or YA books about the Holocaust–a decent list, but it’s not a huge amount. I can see why, though, it’s a difficult subject to tackle in a way that feels fresh and emotional and properly respectful.

    • Kate Bond

      I liked Death a lot at the very, very end. In that last little chapter where he finally takes Liesel. Otherwise it was kind of just Rudy, Max, and Hans for me.

  15. Lisa

    Such a great discussion. Thanks again for hosting this readalong. This last section of the book was weaker than the previous two sections although I did get a bit emotional over the deaths of Hans and Rudy. Not very emotional or as emotional as I should have been but I did feel something.

    I hated that Death once again majorly spoiled the ending. I understand that the purpose was to soften the blow, but I don’t want the blow to be softened. I want to feel the full impact of the emotional punch. Not to go too OT, but I was just discussing a few days ago how I cried almost non-stop through the last 100 pages of Gone with the Wind and was depressed for three days after I finished, and how much I loved it. It was a good depression because it meant I was super emotionally connected to the book. Funny enough, I knew what was coming in that book too (because of the movie) and it didn’t make it any less painful or lessen the blow. So perhaps it’s not just the spoilers that are the problem but also the fact that I’m just not that emotionally invested in the first place.

    I’m also conflicted about Rosa’s character. I like how she handled the Max situation but child abuse, both emotional and physical, is just not okay. Again, my work with foster children might be influencing me here. I think I ended up feeling pretty neutral about her. Her death didn’t move me much at all.

    Rudy’s and Hans’ deaths on the other hand were sad, but as I said before not as sad as I wanted them to be. Like Wendy, I was surprised by the way Rudy died. I, too, thought it would a standalone, and more dramatic. Also agree with Wendy about the kiss. Knowing that he wasn’t going to get it sort of made me stop caring. Why become emotionally invested in something you know you can’t have?

    I’m also in agreement with Wendy about Liesel not feeling authentic. I keep going back to Kate’s theory about Zusak not being able to convincingly write female characters and I’m more convinced than ever that it’s true, at least when he wrote this book. He might have improved since. I think it’s why I didn’t buy Liesel’s romantic feelings towards Rudy. Male writers, even those that are able to convincingly write female characters, often struggle writing female characters in love. There are exceptions but in my experience it’s usually a problem. Zusak also failed to build up Liesel’s feelings for Rudy, so it sort of felt like it came out of no where at the end.

    I’m so glad that I read this book with you guys because I would feel so much more guilty about rating this 3.5 stars (3.49 stars on Goodreads so that I can round down). One more book to add to my “Debbie Downer” shelf.

    • Wendy Darling

      YES. I want to cry piteous tears, I want it to rip my heart out, I want to think about its words and themes and characters for days afterwards. But I just can’t, because I wasn’t moved by this as much as I could have been.

      Agreed on the deaths being sad in theory, but not so much in execution. And the harping on the fact that Rudy never gets kissed started to feel extremely manipulative, and I was honestly irritated when she kisses his corpse after his death. It just felt like a deliberate cruel, winky way to say, SEE, I told you this was going to be sad! I told you Rudy wasn’t going to meet a happy end! Look how tragic this story is, you pitiful human beings. Live while you can. Etc, etc.

      Your observation about male writers writing female characters in love (even those who write those characters well) is spot on. I know I’ve felt this way when I’ve read other authors, though it’s rare to find male writers who do female characters well at all. And I agree that the suddenness of her feelings for him was a bit out of nowhere–I was okay with it because it was such a shock of a moment for her, but then I didn’t understand why there was so little expressed over her parents. (Yes, yes, you could say that it’s because she’s just seen Rudy and by that point she’s numb, but still.)

      I am glad we read this together, too! I was telling Emily May that I have joined the small pen of black sheep on GoodReads who didn’t love the book, hah. But there are others, most notably Kira, whose review is excellent. I was talking to Kate the other day about how I don’t think the plot is particularly complex and I felt like I wanted more from the story, and Kira’s review expresses that in a very convincing and intelligent way.

    • Kate Bond

      Lisa, I agree about the spoilers thing: I am not a person who is bothered by having endings spoiled at all. I actually like that feeling–it’s almost comforting to go in knowing what’s going to happen. I think that’s why I re-read so often.

      Gone with the Wind has been a favorite of mine since Elementary School, and I re-read it frequently (although I wish Mitchell had been a bit more circumspect about the racial aspects–but slaves do frequently suffer from stockholm syndrome, which I think was part of why the slaves in that book behaved in ways that seem insane to us now), and I cry every time. Knowing doesn’t ruin anything.

      The weird thing about Rudy’s death is that we were told that he didn’t deserve to die the way he did, and that made me expect something…more? I guess? I mean, no one really deserves to have his home bombed, and Rudy seems to have passed pretty peacefully, actually, from what we’ve been told.

      I have the same problem with Rosa that I do with male characters who have raped or something in books–frequently (Froi from Finnikin of the Rock comes to mind) a character who has done something terrible like that in one book will be brought back as a hero in the next book, without his having…oh, I don’t know, learned anything? And we’re all supposed to be on board with him because the other characters like him now. No thank you, writers.

      I’m so glad we were all in this together. Whew.

    • Kate Bond

      One more thing: To be fair, I’ve read several books–usually romance novels–in which a woman writes a man’s romantic viewpoint (The Black Dagger Brotherhood comes to mind) in a way that is so wrong it makes me cringe, but the difference is that those books do not achieve any level of acclaim at all. Men can write us poorly and still be considered brilliant, but when it goes the other way, it’s mocked.

    • Lisa

      @Wendy: So much of this book felt so deliberately manipulative both in terms of the writing and the plot. I agree that the kiss and Rudy’s death were very manipulative, and the kiss, especially, felt cliché. When I said Liesel’s feelings for Rudy appeared out of no where I was actually referring to her sudden feelings after her confession about Max. Before that she seemed very platonic towards him. I just wished we could have seen her feelings towards him grow more organically.

      I, too, enjoyed Kira’s review, and Emily’s. Someone did a funny parody of the book in their review that resonated with me, even if it was a bit more critical than I was. Us black sheep may be small in number but at least we’re in good company. :)

      @Kate: Yay, another Gone with the Wind fan. It is absolutely my favorite book of all time (tied with Pride and Prejudice). The reason why the last 100 pages were so sad was precisely because I knew what was coming so spoilers aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they so did not work in The Book Thief. I also wish the racial issues weren’t there but it’s a consequence of the author being from the deep south and having heard stories from relatives who remembered the antebellum period and the war in a way that didn’t make them horrible people.

      I see the parallel between Rosa and Froi. I felt the same way about him. I haven’t read Froi of the Exiles, but at the end of Finnikin of the Rock he was pretty much forgiven. Heck, the characters even allowed him and Evanjalin to go off alone together within a couple months of the attempted rape, and without him really showing remorse. Ugh. Finnikin of the Rock is another one of my “black sheep” books.

      Women can be equally bad at writing from a male perspective, and writing men in love. It’s a frequent complaint of mine, so much so that I shy away from books by female authors that are written from the male perspective. I do think I’ve found more cases of women writing men believably but that’s probably because a) more women seem to write from a male viewpoint than the other way around, and b) being a woman myself I don’t always recognize when a man is being portrayed incorrectly.

    • Lisa

      Just to clarify, I was referring to racial issues in Gone with the Wind, not The Book Thief, which was not written by an author from the deep south.

    • Kate Bond

      I think it’s easier for women to write from a man’s perspective because for so much of our lives we are told men’s stories. It’s the same reason black people are better at writing white characters than white ones are at writing black.

      I also agree about Liesel’s feelings coming out of nowhere–we lost a lot in the jump from 11 to 14, I guess.

    • Kate Bond

      (And I, too, am a Finnikin black sheep. Finnikin and that Julie Kagawa faerie thing. And Daughter of Smoke and Bone.)

    • Wendy Darling

      I liked that TBT review that was a humorous conversation, too. I can’t remember who wrote it, but maybe it was because I’m not friends with them.

      Agreed re: some female authors being bad at writing male characters, too. But I feel as though we encounter the opposite much more frequently, or maybe it just bothers me more because I KNOW what it’s like to be a woman!

  16. Patricia Hoffman

    I mentioned it on Twitter, but from the one tiny part where he shows the first-person narration from Liesel’s book, I wonder if he originally intended it to be first-person and then realized he couldn’t write her…and thus Death became a secondary narrator….
    I liked but didn’t love this book for a lot of the reasons that you all stated already. Secondary thought about foreshadowing the deaths…does he think they (and the whole Nazi thing, to expand on that) are a little too heavy for YA to deal with directly so he tries to soften them? Just a thought.

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, your theories are so interesting, Patricia! I haven’t read too many interviews with the author, but I wonder how Death came to be the narrator as well. We really don’t get too much from Liesel’s POV, and even those felt a bit distant to me, still relayed in a way that was omniscient and not an immersive experience as far as her feelings and thoughts were concerned.

      And I wonder if you’re right about him cushioning the blow for YA as well. Hmm. I don’t like the idea of that.

      Thanks for weighing in–and thanks for joining the readalong, too!

    • Patricia Hoffman

      You’re right, Wendy, that it feels distant. I think the distance between the reader and Liesel created by the writing style really diminishes the power of the novel for me. I cared about the same characters everyone loves–Max, Rudy, Hans–but I still didn’t really CONNECT to anyone. I blame the artifice of the Death construct.

      I don’t think that the deaths need to be cushioned for YA readers–well, depending on the age we’re talking about–but that also makes me wonder what age his target audience IS.

      Thanks for hosting the readalong! I read the comments and in so many instances you all articulated exactly what I thought was wrong/right about the novel so much more eloquently than I could have.

    • Wendy Darling

      I don’t know about that, I love the way you’ve phrased how you didn’t connect with anyone because of the artifice of the Death contruct. That’s it in a nutshell, I think–either you like the Death narration and the book works for you, or you don’t like it and it probably doesn’t.

      Yes, the target audience thing is interesting, too. It reads more like middle grade to me than YA, except that some of the writing is a bit ponderous for the younger age set, and maybe some of what happens as well. I mean, it’s a pretty freaking depressing book. Not that middle grade books need to be all sunshiney and such, but there’s probably some material in there that isn’t appropriate for younger kids.

      Honestly, it feels like this book was written for adults rather than truly written for YA. I’d be curious to hear if there are a lot of teen who have read this book, particularly outside of the author’s home country.

    • Wendy Darling

      But if it was written for adults, it’s weird that he feels the need to cushion the blow. You know what, it’s just weird to want to cushion the blow, full stop. There.

    • Kate Bond

      Yeah, you know what it felt like to me? It was like he had two separate ideas–a story narrated by Death and the actual story of Liesel and Max and Hans–and decided to combine them. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but that it’s what it felt like. The ideas just don’t quite fit.

      Your comment about his possibly softening things for young readers also makes me wonder whether I wouldn’t have liked this more as a book written for an adult audience. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but maybe if he had been able to be more frank about everything, not spell stuff out quite so much, and really leaned into the creepy fairytale aspect… Yes. I think I may have liked that book. It would at least have felt less middle-of-the-road to me, anyway.

    • Patricia Hoffman

      I actually thought it WAS written for middle schoolers, but then I remembered the curse-words at the beginning and thought most likely not.
      Kate–I agree with you, maybe if he’d embraced the creepy Death construct rather than Death as a harried USPS worker with no emotional connections to his ‘packages’ I’d have felt it more.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m glad the readalong prompted you to read the book, Tess! And it looks like you enjoyed it as well, thanks for leaving the link to your review.

    • Kate Bond

      Oh, I’m glad you liked it so much more than I did. But still, that pesky Death and his incessant spoilers…