Nine-year-old Liesel lives with her foster family on Himmel Street during the dark days of the Third Reich. Her Communist parents have been transported to a concentration camp, and during the funeral for her brother, she manages to steal a macabre book: it is, in fact, a gravediggers’ instruction manual. This is the first of many books which will pass through her hands as the carnage of the Second World War begins to hungrily claim lives. Both Liesel and her fellow inhabitants of Himmel Street will find themselves changed by both words on the printed page and the horrendous events happening around them.
I didn’t expect to be so emotionally involved in this book since the entirety of it is narrated by the omniscient Death. However, the dry and sometimes sympathetic voice the author used worked perfectly and I came to love all the characters. The story is frequently interrupted by Deaths’s notes on the future fates on some of the people on Himmel Street and although bleak and short, the impact can be devastating.
Liesel is a wonderful main character. She is sometimes savage and often tender and I admired her drive to learn to read forbidden books. There are often humorous moments with her and a boy named Rudy.
There are tragic parts to this book but strangely the part that struck me the most was the story within a story that one of the characters writes. It is shown in small handwriting and with rough illustrations that show a man who looks like a bird. I went back to read it again as soon as I had finished it.
Despite heavy foreshadowing by Death on major events in the book it was still very suspenseful and tense. We know beforehand what will happen but what the reader is desperate to know is how it happens.