Parents, this book review contains spoilers.
But you don’t have time to read the book yourself anyway, right? That’s why you’re reading this review. You need to be able to tell at a glance whether or not The Book Thief is appropriate for your child. So let’s get started…
What do you get from a book set in Hitler’s Germany – and narrated by Death? You get a poignant, moving story that’s somehow heartbreaking and triumphant all at the same time.
The story is about Liesel, a young girl placed with poor foster parents in a home outside of Munich, Germany. Her foster father Hans paints houses and plays the accordion. Her foster mother Rosa does other people’s laundry for pay, when she can get the work.
And Liesel? Well, she steals books and other stuff – but mostly books.
The Good Stuff
The Book Thief has many examples of love, kindness and self-sacrifice. Liesel and her foster father develop a special father-daughter bond not long after she’s brought to his home. He sits by her bed every night so he can be there to comfort her after her nightmares. He teaches her to read. He includes her in his life. He’s simply a wonderful, loving Dad.
Her foster mother swears like a sailor – mostly in German. And she’s a strict disciplinarian who doesn’t believe in “sparing the rod.” But her love for Liesel and her big heart become very obvious by the end of the book.
And there’s more…
- The mayor’s wife invites Liesel into her home library to borrow books to read-and even allows her to break in and “steal” books after they have a falling out. She later takes Liesel in after her foster parents are killed in a bombing.
- Hans keeps a promise made years earlier and hides a Jewish man named Max in his basement.
- Liesel reads her books to people gathered in a bomb shelter to keep their minds off the raid.
- Hans tries to sneak a piece of bread to an undernourished Jew being marched to a concentration camp.
The reader gets images of war violence in The Book Thief. Jews are paraded down the street and mistreated by the soldiers. A bomber pilot crashes his plane and dies right in front of Liesel and her friend Rudy. A soldier has his legs blown off at the knees – and he dies. Bombs demolish entire streets and towns. And the narrator Death describes taking the souls of those killed.
But that’s not all…
- Liesel is whipped by her foster mother several times for misbehaving – as well as by the teacher at school. She’s also whipped by a Nazi soldier when she tries to talk to Max as he’s being marched to a concentration camp.
- A returned soldier in Liesel’s town hangs himself.
- Rudy is nearly strangled during a fight. Later he’s beaten up by another boy and gets a black eye.
- Hans is whipped by a Nazi soldier for trying to help a Jew.
- A man is killed in a truck accident – and Hans’ leg is broken.
Magic, Sorcery and Spirituality
Liesel prays to God to protect Max, the Jewish man they hid in their basement. Rosa also prays that God brings her husband home safely from serving in the army.
None. Rudy is always asking Liesel for a kiss – and she always refuses him. As she matures, though, she falls in love with the boy. And she kisses him when she finds him dead after a bombing.
Drugs and Alcohol
Hans gives Liesel some champagne to drink. He also gets roaring drunk the night before he has to report to the German army for duty.
The Book Thief is liberally sprinkled with profanity. Some of the cussing is in German. Swear words like a- -… a – - hole… d – - n… he – -… sh-t… bullsh-t… and b- -tard appear almost three dozen times throughout the book. Plus God’s name is abused a dozen times – and Jesus’ name is misused over forty times.
Liesel is called a whore and a slut by a boy. Male private parts are also mentioned by name.
Other Negative Stuff
Liesel is poor and she loves books – so the only way she could get them is by stealing them. But she also joins with a group of kids and steals other things from local farmers – like apples and potatoes.
Plus three boys are forced to strip down naked in front of a nurse.
My Two Cents
The Book Thief is a beautifully written book. The author creates vivid word pictures that pull you, the reader, into the narrative. For such a simple story, it’s extraordinarily moving and powerful.
Plus, it gives you the chance to see the Holocaust and WWII Germany from a different perspective – through the eyes of Death and the regular German folks.
But I have to admit… the profanity throughout the book did ruin it a bit for me. The Book Thief is recommended by the publisher for grade 9 and up, so I think it’s at your discretion, parents, if you want your teenager reading a book with that much foul language in it.
About the Author
Deanna Blanchard is a freelance writer who understands how busy a parent can be! She knows you don’t have time to read every book your child brings home, so she reviews children’s books for you to help you determine if they’re appropriate for your child. Check out more in-depth reviews atwww.InsidePopularKidsBooks.com.