Max Vandenburg is a young Jewish boy in the novel The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak. Max lives with the Hubermann family in their basement and is in hiding from the German soldiers. Although Max is only 22 years old, he seems beaten down and tired of fighting for his life.
Liesel Meminger is also living with the Hubermann family, although not in hiding. Liesel and Max grow together throughout the novel because of their similar backgrounds. Both Max and Liesel have had to leave their families in order to survive. They also both risk their lives to try to improve the lives of others.
Max gives Liesel's life a purpose by encouraging her to learn to read and to be creative. He helps provide an outlet for Liesel by creating art projects for her that keep them both busy. The two of them spend time whiting out the words in Hitler's book, Mein Kampf. This art project also sparks a sense of defiance against the war in Liesel's mind. Between Max and Hans Hubermann, Liesel has great role models who will do whatever they can to stand up for what is right and just, even if it means getting into trouble.
Overall, Max helps Liesel feel as though she can make a difference, that she too can stand up for what is right and help defy the Nazi soldiers.
In the novel, Liesl begins to gain a sense of self through her actions of taking books and learning to read. Because her daily world is highly circumscribed, she needs paths to connect with the world beyond Himmel Street. While the Hubermanns have given her a surrogate family, Liesl must grow beyond the role of child and daughter.
Max provides a sounding board, someone in whom she can safely confide. Perhaps more importantly, his illegal presence in the basement confers on her a responsibility far weightier than any she had known previously: to help keep him safe. Because she is fond of him, she cannot tell anyone outside the house about their friendship. At a very young age, Liesl learns the paradox that integrity sometimes depends on lying.
Max also provides a role model for courage. As a young person, not a parental-age adult, who has shown bravery, he offers her an example of behavior in someone with whom she can identify as he is not much older than herself.
At the same time, he does not feel brave or heroic. Instead, he is very human in suffering guilt over his family's fate. Max and Liesl share survivor guilt, something that brings them together. As Liesl sees that his guilt is something he constantly endures, she gains a sense of how she will manage her conflicted emotions as the years pass.
In The Book Thief, Liesel relates to Max because they are in similar situations. Both have left (or been left by) their families to live with the Hubermanns. Liesel is Max's link to the outside world. He looks forward to their conversations in the basement. After a soccer game in which Liesel beat Rudy's team 6-1, Max asks her to describe the weather, a description "only a child could have given" (249).
Together, they bond through the creative process when they white out Hitler's Mein Kampfand make into an art project. Max needs these kinds of projects to occupy his time and mind. When Max gets sick, Liesel is always looking for presents to lift his spirits. Just as Max has "projects" to keep him busy, Max is, in a sense, one of Liesel's projects.
Also, Max was in hiding because he was Jewish. Liesel was hiding with the Hubermanns because her mother was the wife of a communist. They are both allies in the struggle against the Nazis. Shortly before Max leaves, the Nazis comes through town, herding Jews out. Liesel feels helpless as she watches. "She could only hope they could read the depth of sorrow in her face, to recognize that it was true, and not fleeting" (392). When Liesel talked to Max, worked on projects, and cared for him when he was sick, she did not feel powerless. She was doing something, hidden, but in opposition and defiance of the tyranny of the Nazis.