If you liked Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief… (Holocaust review series)

You’d probably like these:

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Book #15 for 2009
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Book #16 for 2009

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was one of my best reads for 2008 (read in October). I waited it a bit to read it because it was really hyped about for a while, and I’m glad that the hype turned out to be well worth it. It was such a charming novel and I loved every bit of it, and I was crying buckets (rivaling the amount of tears I cried while reading Deathly Hallows) throughout the last third of the book.

The characters were so alive, and so lovable — Liesl, Rudy, Papa, Mama, Max — that you can’t help but feel for them. The most compelling thing I found about it was that it was told from the point of view of Death, which was so amazing — an abstract thing, personified! I never thought I’d feel sorry for Death, but in this book I did, especially in the parts when Death was saying he didn’t necessarily like taking lives, that it was just something he had to do… I’m getting sniffy just thinking about it.

I used to avoid Holocaust-themed books because I knew they’d i nevitably be sad, but The Book Thief got me into a Holocaust phase and I ended up getting other books with similar themes.

While not as lengthy or as deep-seated in emotion as The Book Thief, the three books in this selection are also well-written young adult novels, and offer additional insight into the Holocaust.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas (read last December) is actually subtitled “A Fable,” and it reads like one too, with a matter-of-fact tone. It is the story of nine-year old Bruno, son of a Nazi commandant, who is bewildered at having to move to a new neighborhood because of his dad’s new assignment. They move to a strange place, where their house is the only house for miles. But when Bruno looks out his window, beyond the chain-link fence, he sees thousands of people in blue striped pyjamas. Unbeknownst to his family, Bruno befriends Shmuel, a boy from the other side of the fence, and life is never the same again for Bruno.

I liked this book because of the truly ironic and ohno-ohno-ohno-inducing twist (I swear!), and the innocent naivete of Bruno is heartrending amidst the terrible events happening around him.

Now they’re making it into a movie — David Thewlis as Father, egads! — I’ve got to stock up on the tissues!

Number the Stars is a Newbery-award winning book by one of my favorite authors, and it does not disappoint either. Annemarie and Ellen are best friends in WW2 Denmark, which was trying in vain to resist the Nazi invasion. Ellen’s family is Jewish, and when the hunt for Jews begin, Annemarie and her family must do what they can to help their friends escape.

The book was not as sad as I thought, and it was in fact quite positive and hopeful — unexpected for a Holocaust novel. It seemed different from Lois Lowry’s Anastasia series, and I appreciate that Lowry could write books outside of the series, and win a Newbery while she was at it.

Finally, the biggest surprise came from Milkweed. I’ve never read any books by Jerry Spinelli, although I knew his work is highly acclaimed. I used to think his works were too street, but this one seemed different so I decided to give it a try (not to mention it was P10, hardbound, at Book Sale).

Like The Book Thief, it’s hard to explain Milkweed in a few sentences. Insert deep breath here. I would say it’s a hard-hitting story of friendship, hope and survival about an orphan with no clear identity, who grows up in Nazi-occupied Poland. I can’t explain much more than that, because it gets complicated, but it was like a precursor to The Book Thief (Milkweed was published 2001)– a blend of whimsy, poignancy, and stark reality — and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. I ended up reading most of it in the car on my way to a meeting in QC and then back again to the office (sometimes traffic has its benefits).

The Holocaust is one of the most popular topics for both fiction and non-fiction, but I’m glad there are more books about it in the young adult genre, as its target readers do not usually see history beyond textbooks and classroom lessons. This way, they see history from another person’s point of view, and share the reality that the victims and survivors of that time experienced.

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My copies: The Book Thief, paperback mooched from the UK, upgraded into hardcover bought for P160 at the NBS booth at the MIBF; The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, bought for P40 at Book Sale, upgraded to hardcover with dust jacket from NBS Booksak Presyo sale bought for P100, paperback on its way to the US (mooched from me); Number the Stars, paperback, received as a bonus mooch; Milkweed, hardcover, bought for P10 at Book Salei

My ratings: The Book Thief 5/5 stars; The Boy in Striped Pyjamas 4/5 stars; Number the Stars 3.5/5 stars; Milkweed 5/5 stars

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Phew, four books in one review!

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl


Another historical thriller (am such a sucker for these!)

The Dante Club is about a series of grisly murders committed at the same time Dante Alighieri’s Inferno was being translated into English by a group of prominent New England literary figures, namely Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, George Washington Greene, and JT Fields (the group is known as The Dante Club, hence the title).

The murders are patterned after the different circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno, and the Dante Club must figure out who is behind the dastardly deeds or else lose the chance to introduce the writings of Dante Alighieri to America before they complete their translation.

I discovered this book a few years ago, when I interviewed Ces Drilon and she recommended it to me. The writing is old-fashioned and dragging at times, or maybe it’s because male authors focus on different (er, boring) things.

I also wish I’d waited for my schedule to free up before actually plunging into the novel because it’s the type that’s best for uninterrupted reading. Except I also had to stop reading it at night because given that the “Lucifer” (aka, serial killer) was patterning his murders after the circles of hell, it got pretty scary.

Canticle Three (it’s divided into Canticles), is particularly exciting, but I’ll have to stop now before I say anything more. Bottomline, it’s a good blend of fact and fiction, one that will keep you on your toes.

I still have to read The Poe Shadow, I have the hardback on my to-be-read shelf…

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My copy: mass market paperback bought at Powerbooks, upgraded into a trade paperback mooched from the US (or was it Canada? I forget…)

My rating: 3/5 stars