Plot or Premise
A young girl uses stolen books to distract herself from the reality of living in Nazi Germany in WWII while hiding a Jewish man in her basement.
What I Liked
It is incredibly difficult to know how to review this book. The second half moves along at a much quicker pace and with much higher stakes. The book is narrated by Death / Grim Reaper, and the chapter headings give glimpses of what is to come. There are some red herrings near the end, implying one ending while leading to another, but overall it is pretty solid. The characters are lively, the girl is outstanding, and there are glimpses of her family that offer rare moments of joy and love. And it moved me to tears at the end.
What I Didn’t Like
It is hard to accept the implied message that “most Germans were good / nice”, it was just the Nazis that were bad people. And even the storyline written by the Jewish man in the basement is that it is all because of the Fuhrer, that Hitler is the only truly evil one. There are parts of it that read like almost an apology for Nazism rather than a sense of accountability for the nation’s deeds. The extra materials at the end tell how the author was inspired by his grandparents’ accounts of the ordinariness (in some ways) of the war in Germany for Germans – something that happened around them, or to them, not committed by them. In terms of the writing, the first half is a bit slow and dull, and the constant foreshadowing is repetitive and annoying at the start, less so at the end. The caricature of the mother is ridiculous; she only becomes human near the end. Finally, and this is a bit of a spoiler, the story ends rather abruptly, leaving out a huge opportunity to tell some more story. I know this book is aimed at teens and is hugely popular, but I would not wants someone relying on this book as their only source of history.
The Bottom Line (★★★★☆)
Solid read, not sure about the message.