parade of writing books for a novel. I may have been a little late reading The Book Thief (published in 2005), but I'm thrilled I didn't miss it altogether. Marcus Zusak is a gifted Australian writer, who taught me several things in his book.
Subject-wise, The Book Thief is along the lines of the famous Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, except it follows an orphaned German girl through World War II. The day Liesel Meminger's little brother is buried is the day she picks up her first book. The next several years become defined by words from different books: some stolen, some gifts, some handmade. And when her foster family hides a Jew, words become more important than ever as they work to keep the secret, and their lives.
So, what did Marcus Zusak teach me?
Don't be afraid of an unusual narrator. Zusak narrates his book from Death's perspective. That may give you pause, but when you read the book, you realize it's brilliant. With all the slaughter of the war, death has an intrinsic part of the story, and lends a unique perspective that would have been lost if told from Leisel's point of view. Have you thought through who is telling your story? What would happen if you tried something different?
The use of foreshadowing. Most of the time, writers want to surprise the reader by springing situations and events on them. In The Book Thief, Death, the omniscient narrator, often "gives away" something that is about to happen, or will happen later. In fact, one of Zusak's earliest chapters is the scene of the climax of the book. However, because the reader is already so connected to the characters, you keep reading to find out how it happens, and what the results are. This technique won't work in every book, but the lesson to me is this: make your characters so real and compelling, that the reader will finish it no matter what techniques you use.
Make use of the vast array of words language has to offer. The The Book Thief is all about words. And colors. And Zusak doesn't use ordinary ones.
"The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned."
With all the words we have at our disposal, why do we use the same, tired combinations over and over? Read The Book Thief and discover some fresh, original ways of telling your story that will stick with readers for a long time to come.
Though this book is YA (young adult), it became a #1 New York Times Bestseller (and won the Printz Honor award). Don't miss this book just because of its YA designation.
For more about the author, including an excerpt from the book, check out Markus Zusak's website. And if you'd like to see more reviews, click here.