I needn't have worried. I cried alright. In my front yard. In the middle of the afternoon. On Super Bowl Sunday. People walking by with boxes of beer and family-size chip bags were treated to the sight of a girl blubbering into the grass.
If you are one of the few who haven't read this one yet, it's about Liesel, a young girl trying to navigate the usual obstacles of youth and the added strain of growing up under Hitler's thundercloud. It's also about the power of words, for good and for evil. Our narrator is Death, which is perfect for a lot of reasons, not least of which that we get passages like this:
"It was a year for the ages, like 79, like 1346, to name just a few. Forget the scythe, Goddamn it, I needed a broom or a mop. And I needed a vacation. . . . They say that war is death's best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible." (pp. 307, 309)
We've all grown up with the knowledge of WWII and the horrors contained therein. We know so much about it, in fact, that the horror has started to lose its sharp edges. It's good to remember that humans are capable of the worst atrocities, and this book does some reminding, but the real value of The Book Thief is in how it puts a human face on events in a way that doesn't seem engineered to make the reader ashamed to be human. Death is a fair narrator, and all sides are represented. And, anyway, the evil acts aren't what makes this book so heartbreaking . . . it's the kind ones.
Now here's an ending that makes me feel better.