Literary Criticism and Significance

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Mark Zusak, an Australian author of German descent, first made a mark on the literary world in 2002 with his award-winning children's book I Am the Messenger. With The Book Thief (2006), his foray into what was marketed as a young adult novel earned him great success in sales (it remained on American best-seller lists for weeks) but mixed reviews from critics. The novel's dark subject matter and intimidating length (550 pages) ask a lot of young readers, but teenagers and adults alike have read and loved its endearing tale of a young girl trying to survive in a very adult world of war and chaos. Already, book club editions are becoming more popular, and its introduction into the world of education is gaining The Book Thief more exposure and readers: it seems destined to become a widely read and discussed work.

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The choppy, often-interrupted narrative is a challenging story line for most readers; reviewers themselves struggled with the novel, calling it "never an easy read, never a glide," "awkward," "troublesome," and "marred by postmodern tricks." Death, as the narrator, often interrupts the story line to insert all-knowing asides, background information, and witty or insightful commentary; the effect is a story that is not cohesive, but rather patchy. The unique style of narration is, however, easy to adjust to and can be forgiven within the framework of a heartrending tale of friendship and suffering. The novel's strength lies in its endearing characters and the unique bonds that are formed as they all struggle through the difficulties and tragedies of war. Liesel is a character hailed by critics as "gutsy," "plucky and smart," "memorably strong," and...

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