Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’m frugal with my five-star ratings, but any book that can make me cry deserves all the stars.

When I first read The Book Thief at sixteen, I didn’t see what the fuss was all about.  It was good, but not great.  I liked the writing, the story, and enjoyed the characters well enough, but it didn’t make an impression.

This time around, the book absolutely wrecked me.

I picked it up for one of my summer grad school classes and it was love from page one.  I opted for the audiobook and soaked in every minute of my daily commute.  Zusak’s writing is incredible.  The characters are well-formed, with realistic development and motivations. The book’s themes about the power of words and the inconsistency of humanity are so well-implemented, I can’t get them out of my head.  It’s taken me a month to sit and write out this review because there’s just so much to think about.

Reading The Book Thief as an adult was also a very personal experience.  I’ve recently experienced several deaths and this book helped me grieve.  I finished the same day I learned one of my favorite library patrons had died and the last fifteen minutes of the audiobook had me sobbing uncontrollably on my way home from work.  I was a total traffic hazard.  For someone who doesn’t cry often, this kind reaction is noteworthy.  I haven’t connected with a story on this a visceral level like this in a long time.

Overall, this is the kind of book that you can’t look away from.  It’s the kind of story that haunts you for years after reading and keeps bringing you back for more.  It’s the kind of story that worms its way into your being.  It sounds strange, but I feel a more complete person after reading this book.

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To Bobby

Why is the measure of love loss?

The opening lines of Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body have been ringing in my head.  They don’t particularly fit the situation at hand, but still they persist.  I walk across the sunlit campus, under the apple blossoms, across the grassy mall, and the words continue to resonate.

Why is the measure of love loss?

A boy from my neighborhood died this weekend.  He had been out drinking with friends and simply disappeared.  His body was found yesterday in a river.

He was in the grade below me.  His family has a farm a mile from my own.  I graduated with his sister.  My little brother played baseball with his little brother.  My best friend’s family is close with his–they call each other brother and sister.

I didn’t know him well.  In fact, I barely knew him at all.  But twenty year old kids aren’t supposed to die.

Just last week, his sister posted a photo on Instagram of him in front of a poster.  It was captioned: “Pretty proud of my brother today!!  He developed an ice cream at UWRF for part of the URSCA that substitutes cream with dried buttermilk!  Make sure you save me some!  #proudsister

That was five days ago.  Now he’s gone.

I can’t help but think–what if it was MY little brother?  What if it was me?

This is the time of year when everything is growing and the sun is shining and the future is ours to grasp.

It’s not supposed to end in mourning.

The right to complain

Minnesotans have every right to complain about the weather.

Sorry, other parts of America.  I know that you’ve had some unprecedented weather-related incidents this winter.  Snowstorms in the South, unusual low temperatures, etc.  I understand, but remain fairly unsympathetic.

In Minnesota, you quickly learn the difference between the different kinds of winter storms.

First, there are snowstorms, which are exactly as they sound and result in heavy amounts of snow.

Second, there are blizzards.  Sometimes, blizzards involve snowfall, but for the most part, they are significant because of wind.  Whiteout conditions occur, limiting visibility.  High winds push the temperature down significantly.

This year, a third term has been inducted into winter weather vocabulary : the Polar Vortex.  Basically… these occur when the weather from Canada is dumped on Minnesota, resulting in extreme subzero temperatures.  In a Polar Vortex, only a few minutes of exposure can easily lead to frostbite.  Lengthy exposures lead to hypothermia and potentially death.

We’re in the midst of the third Polar Vortex this winter.  Although, in reality, it has felt like one constant stream of terrifying cold.  For a solid month, the high never reached above zero.  Where I live on the open prairie, the wind always blows.  When the high is already below zero, the windchill temperature plummets.  In January, we basically had three straight weeks where it was negative thirty.  I stayed indoors for two straight days because going outside could kill me.  One of my classmates is from Alaska, and he informed me the other day that winters here are on par with ones he experiences back home.

Do you see?  Do you now understand?

Minnesotans have every right to complain about the weather.

We endure the ungodly conditions.  We brave the roads in blizzards.  We wake up in the wee hours of morning to shovel our driveways.  We carry on, month after month, until Spring finally comes.

Unfortunately, Spring here doesn’t usually arrive until mid-April.  Which means I’ve still got a month and a half to exercise my right to complain.

To all of you in warmer climates, enjoy it.  You don’t know what you’re missing–and be thankful for that.

Leapfrog writing

A great and glorious tale was born during my innovative creative writing class today. It was an in-class activity that our textbook referred to as “Leapfrog”.  Here’s how it works.  We got into groups to write a collaborative story.  The only catch was only one person could write at a time.  When the professor gave the cue, we had to switch writers.  The time slots weren’t consistent, so at points we would madly get a few words in before handing it off.  At the end, everyone read their creations to the class.  The result was a bunch of hilarious nonsense that, somehow, seemed like creative genius.

Here is the story I worked on with classmates Meara and Adam.  I just read it aloud to  my roommate, Katie, and she insisted it needs to be shared with the world.

~~~

The gladiator stood in the center of the dusty floor over his vanquished heathen foe. “GrrrRAR,” he said. “GRRRRRARRARARARAAGGHH.” He was a skeleton imprisoned in a deep pit of a great gelatinous beast.

“Oh my goodness,” he cried one hundred years later. “I have been trapped in this pit for so long, I no longer remember the taste of peanuts!”

Then suddenly, he died. From the peanuts.

We pan over to an empty field, below a forlorn mountain.

There was a cave at the bottom into a lake of lava.

A rabbit stood above the field and cave, majestically adorned with a cape made from the FLAYED scales of the leviathan that dwells in the lava. “Ahoy!” The rabbit was dead. THE PLAGUE HAD CLAIMED ANOTHER.

And no one heard of the terrible beastie again, for he had sated his hunger for impossibility, and died.

~~~

Can you tell what parts are mine?