Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“Usually we walk around constantly believing ourselves. "I'm okay" we say. "I'm alright". But sometimes the truth arrives on you and you can't get it off. That's when you realize that sometimes it isn't even an answer--it's a question. Even now, I wonder how much of my life is convinced.” 

The Book Thief is one of those books that has sat on my shelf for years, I kept meaning to pick it up and read it but I always found a reason not to (the reason always being another book). Everyone I know who had read it absolutely loved it and I suppose a part of me didn't want to be let down and another bigger part of me really dislikes reading books about wars, I've read a few of them and while I did enjoy them the subject matter always saddens me and so I have always tried to avoid it.

Not knowing much about the book accept it was set in Germany during World War Two, I was pleasantly surprised. The book thief is narrated by death and tells the story of a young girl named Liesel who he becomes fascinated with, Liesel is adopted by the Hubermanns after her mother can no longer look after her. The beginning of the book follows death's first meeting with Liesel after her brother has died in her arms on the way to her foster home and  he watches her steal her first book, The Gravediggers Handbook'. This book is the start of Liesel's life on Himmel street with the Hubermanns, its the book that she learns to read from and the book that creates the connection between her and her stepfather Hans. This book tells the story of one family, their lives during a horrific time, it tells the pain and horror seen during WWII and shows us how even during the darkest times people continue living.

Liesel was a wonderful character, her love affair with books fascinated me, from a girl who couldn't read a single word to someone who is starving for more words. She is fierce and gentle, she is brave and a coward, Leisel is a girl trying to find her self in a world where nothing makes sense. Leisel is real, she is you and she is me.

"She was the book thief without the words.

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.” 

Death narrates the book throughout and beware he does give a lot of spoilers away. At first it was hard to get used to and I know a lot of people may give up because of this but please don't, once I got used to it I started to really like hearing from Death. He sees humanity in such a wonderful way, we are glorious and yet we are so ugly.

“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.” 

This book will stay with you long after you finish reading it, it will inspire and leave you awed and yes it will make you cry.  No matter how much Death tries and prepare you for the ending, it will leave you feeling profoundly sad and at the same time shows how people can continue to live on after suffering such profound tragedy. Liesel is a character that will stay with me for a long time.

My rating: 4

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Looking For Alaska by John Green

“Thomas Edison's last words were 'It's very beautiful over there'. I don't know where there is, but I believe it's somewhere, and I hope it's beautiful.”

Can I just say I was never a big fan of contemporary fiction before I read John Green but he has lead me to reassess my reading habits and try more books outside of my comfort zone. Anyway on to the review.

Looking for Alaska tells the story of Miles Halter or 'pudge' as he becomes known. Miles is a friendless high-school student who loves learning famous historical peoples last words. He begs his parents to send him to a boarding school in Alabama were he sees it as his chance to start again and break out of his shell. 

Miles goes to boarding school looking for his 'great perhaps', he wants a life of adventure and honestly I think he is trying to find something to live for and boy does he find it. Alaska Young is Miles idea of perfection from the moment he meets her, she is outgoing, reckless and doesn't care what anyone thinks, the type of person Miles wants to be. Looking for Alaska is spilt into two parts, the first counts down the days to a big event and the second counts the days afterwards. Miles was always looking for the 'Great Perhaps' but I don't think he ever thought it would turn out quite like this.

One of my favourite aspects of this book is how John Green deals with depression, I know some may not agree with me but I think  Green shows how people dealing with depression are not as easy to spot as some may think, they don't mop around and lie in bed all day, some walk out the house with a smile on their face and you wouldn't ever know anything was wrong. Both Miles and Alaska show how depression can affect different people, Miles is an introvert, back home he had no friends and spent most of his time alone but he is determined to overcome this and forces himself to be someone new whereas Alaska is an extrovert, she masks her vulnerability by being loud and exuberant until its too late and before anyone can help.

Once again Green shows how he is a master with his words and his characters, even though I'm a little older than they are I found myself being able to relate to them and for those few short hours I was able to become Miles and see the world from his eyes, a scared teenager just trying to find himself. Green always has a way of creating relatable characters and once again I was able to see parts of myself in them, Alaska the care-free, book loving girl, who finds herself a little bit lost at times and Miles the shy, caring, sweet boy who is looking for something better, trying to find some meaning to his life.

Green's characters are flawed but they are honest and realistic, they deal with situations in a way any teenager might. Overall I thought that Miles found his 'Great Perhaps' he found it in his courage to move to boarding school, in his love (or infatuation) for Alaska and in dealing with the 'after'. At the end of this book Miles has questioned everything about himself but in the process of doing this he has managed to find himself and perhaps now he is ready for another adventure. I don't believe the 'Great Perhaps' is a destination rather a journey Miles takes to find himself. 

Looking for Alaska is a story about finding yourself and loosing yourself, its about love and longing, pain and suffering and not being afraid of searching for your own 'Great Perhaps'. 

My rating: 4.5