My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am not one of those people who fell head over heels for this story. I didn’t end up a blubbering mess. It was an interesting story and if that is considering controversial so be it.
This is not a slam of this book, but the spell it cast over others, was not cast over me. Instead I found a book with some interesting and complex characters told from an intriguing perspective that ultimately ended up being just okay.
Let’s start on a positive note with the aspect of the story that I loved most, which others did not. Death’s perspective. The entire book is told from Death’s POV as he is watching over this girl as her particular story is told. This is how he sees this story in his sweeping over arching view. While it felt omniscent in a sense that Death knew so much, it wasn’t. As we learned more and more throughout the story it was compiled from what he saw as he intersected paths with her life. As well as her story that she had written and he had stolen. As such there is a sort of distance from the characters that I felt. I felt like I was sitting down with Death and he was telling me this story about someone else. I was captivated, but held off at a distance (I’ll talk about that later). In this sense, i think that it was beautifully told. It accomplished a goal wonderfully and I truly appreciated that.
Along with Death’s perspective, we got a sense of his character. This is his job and he isn’t always fond of what he has to do. He doesn’t always wish to take people and he sees this as a feat no other could handle. It was the asides that he made and the matter of fact nature about his character that added a bit of levity to this book. With this sort of buoyancy we learned of Death’s fascination with color. In the early chapters this fascination and seeking out of color was something grounded us. It was very present in the early sections, but then fell to the way side. This is rather unfortunate considering that it was rather telling and an interesting element in the story. As a result, that element is unresolved and isn’t brought full circle like I had hoped.
I mentioned that I was rather disconnected from the characters and this is largely true. I never felt a real connection with Liesel. Instead I got to see her grow and change over a five year span. Yet, I felt distant. Liesel’s story was propelled through her love of books. It was broken down by the books she stole and her life around that. I wanted to connect more and feel more sympathetic for the girl her witnessed a trauma and then struggled and thrived through the next years of her life.
The same can not be said for Hans and Rosa. Those two characters were brought to life in this book. I had the strongest connection to them and their brand of love for their daughter. Rosa’s harsh tongue, but caring actions were a joy to watch. While Hans was what I imagined was a gentle giant. He was caring and it was very much him and his actions that moved me. I honestly felt like he was very capable and intriguing enough for his own story. So I was grateful to get sections of the story solely focused on him. In some ways this story was as much, maybe even more so about Hans and his actions than Liesel who was just a witness to what he did.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Rudy. There was a light to his character that brought some humor to the largely somber book. He was a delight, full of energy and curiosity. There were a number of times when his actions made me groan. Midway we learned his fate and for me that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of his character, but it did make me a little bit more detached. This is likely largely due to the fact that there was a minor shift in his character and how he behaved around Liesel. I should have felt pained by this subtle shift in their relationship, but for some reason I didn’t.
And that is what ultimately kept me at a distance. Often I could sense from the writing that I was meant to feel a certain way about a character or event, but I just didn’t. Time and time again, it just felt like it was just another event rather than something that should have been upsetting.
The side characters in this novel were absolutely brilliant. There are a number that move through the story and almost never do they just have a passing roll. Rather they all end up having some sort of impact on one of the characters that gets focus. Whether that was Tommy or Frau Holtzapfel or Ilsa Herrman, they each felt like fully fleshed out people. It was refreshing and really made me interested in knowing more about each character.
I could smack myself for nearly forgetting about Max. He was an interesting addition to the story. He not only aided Hans’s story, but Liesel’s. For the first time we really saw Liesel love someone other than her parents (foster technically, but let’s be real). His part of the story was an element that I enjoyed.
Overall, this is just a great story, that failed to connect to me like others have. It was nice seeing a different perspective that wasn’t of either the Nazis or of Jews in the area. Instead the focus was on ordinary Germans and in particular ones who didn’t agree with the masses, but didn’t want to endanger themselves. That is a perspective I don’t think we see often. As such, it was an interesting take on the events.