Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’ And What Makes A Good Teen Novel, by Beth Revis
Today, I want to take a moment to analyze what makes a good teen novel. One of the best books I’ve ever read, Young Adult or not, is Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. When I was a teacher, this was the single most stolen book from my classroom – a high honor indeed!
In case you’ve not heard of this brilliant book, The Book Thief is about a girl, Liesel, during World War II. She’s a foster child, and the family she’s staying with is hiding a Jew from the Holocaust. And also, the book is narrated by Death.
Here’s what makes this book stand out:
- A totally unique narrator: Like I said, it’s narrated by Death. And the unique perspective gives everything a new light. Stories about the Holocaust have been done before. But stories about one of the greatest human travesties in history, told from the point of view of a character who has, literally, seen every death in the world in all of time casts a new shadow onto the way we, the reader, see this event in history.
- Foreshadowing: Not only does Death give a unique perspective, he is an all-knowing character. Death knows the end of the story, and as the reader discovers it, he drops hints. This carefully layered foreshadowing enhances the story in an amazing way – we know what’s coming, not only from a historical level, but on a personal level, too, and it heightens our fear for the characters. It’s like Titanic – you know the ship’s going to sink, but you’re not sure if Jack and Rose will make it.
- Bringing the historical to a personal level: In a similar vein, you have the fact that this story takes something historical – the Holocaust – and makes it extremely personal through specific characters. Elie Wiesel’s Night does this, too, in a different way. It’s hard for us, as humans, to comprehend the enormity of loss in the Holocaust – be we can understand an individual’s suffering, and that is what creates empathy within us.
The Book Thief is truly a book we can all learn from. A good teen novel tells a unique story through a unique perspective. In your own writing, write the story from the point of view of a character who can tell that specific story. Your story cannot be so vague that just anyone could narrate it – your narrator must be the one person who can tell the story in this way. Additionally, you need to know your story enough to add in the clues – foreshadowing and more – that give depth to the reading and make the book better to experience on a second reading. And finally, your narrative must be as personal as possible. Making it personal makes it true, and a true story (not necessarily a nonfiction, but a story that is true-to-life) is one of the most important things we as writers can do.
Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com
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