Is The Book Thief effective in voicing the YA experience?
There is not doubt that The Book Thief fits in with the title of “young adult novel” in referring to the development of the main character. Though it is not addressed specifically from Leisle’s point of view and it is not in present tense, Death is telling the story as a progression—a progression not only of Leisle’s understanding of words and the world, but also of herself and the loved ones around her. Death shows as she progresses out of her fear of her foster family, out of her ignorance, and even out of her own nightmares.
One thing I find almost essential in my readings of young adult literature is that the main character starts forming a world view. Leisle inevitably does have a sort of idea forming of the world around her, in terms of what she thinks of Hitler, of the Nazi regime, of those around her, and especially of words and their power. When the reader first meets Leisle in the novel, she exudes uncertainty about her. By the end of the novel, Leisle is very certain of herself and her capabilities; she is no longer the child clinging to the gate in fear of her foster mother.
Another measurement of Leisle’s growth in voicing the “YA experience” is Leisle’s development of feeling toward her best friend and next door neighbor, Rudy. What begins a childhood annoyance and nuisance turns into a young adult love and respect, something every young adult must have experience with.
Though some might be hesitant to consider The Book Thief as a young adult novel due to the time period it is set in and the obvious dark material that comes with it, I believe young adults must be presented with the capability of cruelty in humankind. Young adults have seen cruelty already in their lives. Hitler and the Nazi regime is what many consider one of the darkest times in regards to the treatment of human beings toward others. I remember covering the holocaust in great depth within my sophomore year in high school. Though it appalled me, though it made me cry, though it made me feel sick in knowing what humanity could do, this novel shows not only the cruelty, but shows that there is hope and beauty amidst darkness. It also would show young adults that not all Germans were involved, making sure they do not discriminate. It would be a light way of opening up this topic to young adults.
An interview with Markus Zusak by The Compulsive Reader:
"In America they are marketing The Book Thief as a young adult book. Do you think that there is a clear distinction between YA or A fiction?" "Zusak: My take on this is that at home, I have hundreds of books on my shelf. There are many categories, plus one. At the top of that shelf, are my favourite books – the books that I’ve loved, and that’s the type of book I’m trying to write when I sit down and work. For that reason, the categories of YA versus Adult fiction become irrelevant. Nobody ever says, ‘I loved your YA science fiction comedy’ to someone. They simply say, ‘I loved your book’, and that’s what I’m aiming for."
"Do you worry that younger teens might find the book too disturbing? "
"Zusak: To be honest, not really. Whether it’s the era the book deals with or using Death as narrator, I think there’s a positive thread that runs all the way through the book – it’s the gems of kindness and love that you mentioned earlier that sit amongst the darkness that are special – but they wouldn’t be special without the darkness as a backdrop."