The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
I read this for our May book group selection, and I loved it. I have been aware of this book for many years, and in fact we gave it to our friends' teenage daughter one Christmas. But it wasn't until one of our book group members highly recommended it AND both my sister and my husband read it for their book groups and also loved it, that I finally dug in.
It's the story of Liesel, a German girl living in a small town near Munich during World War II. It's about the Holocaust, of course, but more than anything it's about Liesel and her relationships with others, including a Jewish man who hides in her basement, her foster parents, and her best friend Rudy. This book is unique because it's not directly about the Jewish experience but rather about the Germans. It gives one a different perspective of a German child's experience of the war.
Liesel finds a way to transcend her difficult circumstances (she loses her family of origin) by finding herself in words, through the books she begins stealing. She doesn't steal very many books, but just enough to make her life more interesting.
I loved the way Liesel's foster father teaches her how to read (in the middle of the night), the rough way her foster mother calls everyone a "saumensch" and a "saukerl," the unrequited young love between Liesel and Rudy, the beautiful books Max creates for Liesel and her unconventional friendship with him, the stolen trips to the library of the mayor's wife, and the beautiful way words and music are woven through the book. In the midst of a society full of distrust for books and words, Liesel reads aloud from her books to all of the people gathered in the bomb shelters. My book group friends all liked the narrator being death, and especially found the last page to be beautiful.
This book is undeniably sad, but well written and beautiful at the same time.