Posted in Books, Books I dislike, Historical fiction

Why I HATED The Book Thief

Oh, yes, I’m going to go there, and I don’t care how many people might think I’m as bad as a kitten-killer for stating my honest opinion on this bloated piece of purple prose on par with a D.W. Griffith movie. And please don’t write some impassioned comment trying to get me to Magickally change my mind and suddenly join the crowd squeeing all over this tripe. Not gonna happen.

When this was assigned as the required historical in my YA Lit class, I was excited to finally get to read this book I’d heard so many good things about. And the first few chapters actually flew by quickly. I thought I was going to love the rest of the book and have it done in a few days.

Was I wrong.

Attempting to read this book was like watching paint dry. It moved at a snail’s pace, with no real plot taking shape and nothing of note really happening. A lot of things happened, but they never really accomplished anything. Even a book that’s deliberately slower-paced and more about character development than fast-paced and plot-centric needs to be hung on some kind of arc. I kept waiting for some kind of inciting incident to take shape, some dramatic midway point, and it never happened.

With the exception of Rudy and maybe Hans, none of these characters felt particularly fleshed-out and three-dimensional. They were like a collection of stereotypes and characteristics, rather like how I used to write my own characters. At least my excuse was extreme youth. None of these people ever really came alive for me. I felt absolutely nothing for any of them.

The prose is excessively purple, and not only that, but it’s overwrought and reads like something you’d find in the notebooks of some self-important teen who thinks s/he’s all that. I’ve been there and done that, so I know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s not even deliberate, but your youthful prose oozes the message, “Look at me! I’m so much deeper and more creative than my peers! Look at these unique metaphors and similes! Look how uniquely I use language! Everyone praise me as a special little snowflake and misunderstood genius!”

Page after page contains silly examples like “breakfast-colored sun,” “chocolate-colored sky,” “pinecones littered like cookies,” “disfigured figure,” “lacerated windows,” “the sound of a smell,” and “rusty silver eyes.” Seriously, the language is just bizarre. And “nightmare” isn’t a verb, at least not in English.

It’s way too heavy-handed, beating us over the head with all the subtlety of a D.W. Griffith movie and telling us how to think and feel. At least Griffith’s films are entertaining and tell interesting stories, his personal flaws and Victorian preachiness/moralizing aside. With the vile exception of BOAN, I’d gladly watch just about any of his films again.

Unless Rudy were exposed to radioactive material or a dye job went seriously wrong, his hair would not literally be the color of lemons. A human being cannot have lemon-colored hair naturally. Why do so many writers try to creatively describe hair color?

Death as a narrator is a really bad gimmick that doesn’t work.

Native-speaking Germans have said that the vulgar words constantly bandied about are NOT used as anything but vulgar, lowbrow insults in German. They’re not used as cute, charming, funny terms of endearment between spouses, friends, or parents and children. Just picture one of George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television standing in for those words, and you get the point. Totally obscene and inappropriate.

Way too much telling instead of showing. I think there’s too much emphasis on ONLY showing these days, but this wasn’t the good, necessary kind of telling. It just made the book even more boring and long-winded.

Nice job stereotyping nuns as ruler-wielding, child-beating sadists!

How not to write omniscient POV: Litter the book with constant spoilers and horn into the narrative to give away pivotal plot points, the fates of just about everyone, and the ending, multiple times. Just think of a book whose ending totally tore your heart out because of a character’s unexpected death, or some other kind of tragedy. Now imagine how different it would’ve been had you seen this every 5-10 pages:

****NEWSFLASH!**** In 5 months, Name is going to die in exactly this way! You’ll never see THAT one coming! Heeheehee! Everyone praise my cleverness! Look how avant-garde I am!

God help the people who seriously think this is “brilliant” or “moving” use of “foreshadowing.” Um, I wasn’t aware that the definition of foreshadowing now included outright giving away the ending and pivotal plot developments.

He had over 500 pages and couldn’t even make it to the end of the War! Serious sign this was an unfocused project.

The title makes no sense, as Liesel only steals a few books on and off.

It takes a special talent to make a book set during this era boring.

And this is why I stay far away from books with massive hype.

Author:

I started reading at three (my first book was Grimm's Fairy Tales, the uncensored adult version), started writing at four, started writing book-length things at eleven, and have been a writer ever since. I predominantly write historical fiction family sagas/series. I primarily write about young people, since I was a young person myself when I became a serious writer and didn't know how to write about adults as main characters. I only write in a contemporary setting if the books naturally go into the modern era over the course of the decades-long stories being told over many books. I've always been drawn to books, films, music, fashions, et al, from bygone eras, and have never really been too much into modern things. If something or someone has appeal for all time, it'll still be there to be discovered after the initial to-do has died down. For example, my second-favorite writer enjoyed a huge burst of popularity in the Sixties and Seventies, but he wrote his books from 1904-43, and his books still resonate today, even after he's no longer such a fad. Quality lasts for all time.

30 thoughts on “Why I HATED The Book Thief

  1. I really do love your book rants. I read this but to be honest can’t remember much about it now. I think I read it in 2006. Maybe this means it didn’t really make a lasting impression. As it evidently did with you, but for all the wrong reasons. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oops, I forgot to mention that this made me snigger: “Unless Rudy were exposed to radioactive material or a dye job went seriously wrong, his hair would not literally be the color of lemons.”

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  3. This book is on my to-read list. I’ll be curious to see if I have a similar reaction. I’ve read other books before that received prizes and accolades and had the same kind of disgust reactions. Sometimes I think people confuse different and startling with avant garde and innovative.

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  4. You couldn’t have put it better. I went to see the movie and wondered why it was titled Book Thief. Boring, drawn out and with an ending that just darn right sucked. It was a waste of money and time. Wish I would have read this review first. lol

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  5. I have to read this for my eighth grade A.L.A. class, and, I must say, I agree with you completely. The book is soooooo slow, and we’re searching for symbolism, but all it is is the rehashing of white, red, black, and some cliche symbols, like “candles of hope.” We have to annotate every page, and I need to be at page 350 right now, but I’m only on page 150. I can’t do this book. Never again. And the Death being a narrator thing hardly adds anything, and he barely even narrates. It’s also really annoying, all those “newsflashes,” as they just interrupt. I’m glad that this book only has 500 pages. -_-

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    1. They actually didn’t have cliche symbols at all and there weren’t those newsflashes every page in fact there was only two when Rudy was about to die and at the start. Also, I had to annotate the book as well and it wasn’t bad at all, in fact, how many times a day do you even read. Also, the Death narrator thing adds everything to the story because it’s a creative spin on the way to make it in third-person. Also, Death is very important because he’s the one that describes the story to us and explains about the death of people and the destruction that humans are causing adding on to one of the main themes. Death also explains how he is haunted by humans and again making a strong point about how humans are just killing each other. He also explains how weird humans are as well and how they act which adds to the story as well. The book might have been slow but it still has strong themes and points that you people are not understanding. Maybe some of the descriptions were off but the entire book was full of metaphors, symbolism and similes so you shouldn’t be complaining that the book didn’t have good description. IIf you were bored maybe you just didn’t realise some important values and themes and description that are used in this book.

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      1. Nice job insulting one of my commenters for not loving this overrated garbage! Why do some people think writing impassioned defences of books, films, and albums we hated will make us Magickally change our minds and start pile-driving our heads up their asses too?

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  6. It’s part of a trend of re-interpreting WW2 through a snowflake sense. Think of the The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The message is that Hitler was nasty, and the same people who supported him are still around today (and voting Trump). The Silver Sword did it much better.

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  7. I hated the book too, I gave it 2 stars because for a YA book in comparison to others at least it’s not all about itty bitty teen romance and has somewhat of a message.

    Also i am german and I seriously had a problem with the portrayal of the holocaust in this book. I think Zusak instrumentalized the holocaust for cheap emotional reactions of the readers. In addition the fact that it is just another story of some german heroes being nice to a jew kind of lessens the horror of it all.
    I mean Zusak couldn’t even do some historical research about time an place. He just imagined the whole place Liesel lived in instead of taking a real location.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for this review. Stilted, cliched, shabby prose and cartoon stereotype characters. I put down the basement ok after a couple godawful chapters.

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  9. I 100% agree. Just like a bunch of people here I read this for 8th grade language arts and I despised it. People told me I just didn’t “get” it but I really think there’s nothing to get. The book is reeks of wanting, or better, pretending to be avante-garde and philosophical but it isn’t. Thank you for voicing your opinion on the matter.

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  10. I completely agree. This book is terrible. I had to read it in seventh grade for my ELA class, and I hated it right away. It was sooooo slow moving and it felt like the author was trying too hard too sound “cool” and “educated”. It’s narrated by death? Really? And my teacher was like, “This is the best book I have ever read.” Ugh. You can’t imagine the horror I felt when I had to read this book AGAIN for 8th grade. And, again, my teacher was like, “This is the best piece of literature you will ever read.” NO. My teacher also forced me to answer questions about the book like, “What does “dominoes and darkness” mean?” I had to make something sentimental up. To me, it felt like most of the symbolism/metaphors in this book were shoved in there for no apparent reason. This book is so extremely terrible. If I have to read it again I will puke.

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  11. ahh, The Book Thief. Ironic how it is the only book nobody would want to steal. I pity those who read this book and enjoyed it. I don’t think to have Death as the narrator was “smart” or “different,” I thought it left many plot-holes. For example, there is only one Death. However, Death spends so much time watching Leisel. Was it a slow day, Death? No, it was in the middle of WWII. The book doesn’t even start out nicely, it starts out with:
    “First the colors.
    Then the humans.
    That’s usually how I see things.
    Or at least, how I try.”
    Wow, look at me! Look at how meaningful I am, using colors and not just that people die! Look at how ~~~ORIGINAL~~~ I am!
    Next,
    “—Of course, an introduction.
    A beginning.
    Where are my manners?
    I could introduce myself properly, but it’s not really necessary.”
    This is what I would write in an essay with a 10,000-word limit when I only have 127 words.
    Ah yes, let’s introduce ourselv-SIKE
    “and quite a lot of thievery.” She stole 6 books. That is not “Quite a lot.”
    “Some of you are most likely thinking that white is not really a color and all of that tired sort of nonsense. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is. White is without question a color, and personally, I don’t think you want to argue with me.”
    Ah yes, listen to how smart my work is! In it, I say, that White is not a color! Listen to how smart I am!
    “—I became interested. In the girl.” She’s 12! Also, death waited for twenty-three minutes with Leisel and her mother. Aren’t there…other dead people? Did people just stop dying in those 23 minutes?
    He also later states, “But that is not allowed.”
    Can I ask who is stopping you, Death? Who is going to punish you if you do?
    And, we just reached Part 1. I could keep going, but then I would write a book better than this if I compiled all my criticisms about it.

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    1. Death is probably a grim reaper and you should know that there probably isn’t only ONE grim reaper but many. Death also describes how he sees colour and how he sees white because there was a connection. He saw snow. Snow is white and every time someone died in the book there was snow. Also, Death doesn’t spend a lot of time watching Death if you finished reading the book you would know that because he only meets her twice and at the end, Liesel (she is dead at the time) gives him the book (called the book thief) she wrote which was what he was retelling to us. It’s also mentioned at the start if you read it you would have realised that. The introduction to himself was probably because the author didn’t want to introduce him but instead infer him as Death. He didn’t introduce him because he probably felt that Death should see the story as more important. Also, nobody wants your pity because, in fact, it is they who pity you for not being able to understand a text. Also, I don’t think your book about criticism would actually make any selling because it would be really bad.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love troll comments like this! Nope, as I said at the start, not gonna Magickally change my mind because YOU happened to like this. I love how you thought it was cool to insult us because you’re so butthurt by our honest, negative opinions of this overrated crap. And guess what, like other trolls, you’re getting blacklisted.

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  12. personally, I like the book. But I will not try to change your thoughts on the book because you have already read it and decided that you absolutely hate it. It is normal for people to have different opinions about every book. good thing you all like reading and read a lot so you are knowledgeable enough to decide which book is garbage and which is not. please give me a list of your favorite books because your book review was interesting

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