The Book Thief, Mairelon the Magician, and Zel

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The novel tells the story of a girl who finds herself collecting books in the middle of WWII Nazi Germany. You find that you can measure important parts of her life by the books she collects. She is a blonde, blue-eyed German so she’s safe from the fate of most holocaust novel heroines, but her adopted father doesn’t agree with all the Nazi practices. In fact, at one point in the novel they harbor a Jew in their basement. The book includes the theft of a book meant to be burned in one of the infamous Nazi book-burnings, the exploits of a neighborhood boy who idolizes Jesse Owens (not a popular guy with the Nazis…), and the bombing of the little girl’s town. In my opinion, the book doesn’t lend itself well to summary, you’ll just have to read it.
The most intriguing part of this book for me is the narrator. It takes you a few chapters to figure it out (if you haven’t been informed) that the narrator is death. It’s a very interesting personification. Most authors use an omniscient narrator, a first-person narrator, or at least another character acts as the narrator, but because death is a character in every life, Zusak presumes that death will w
ork well as a narrator. His presumption isn’t always correct. Parts of the book are confusing. Death gives away the end of the story way before the end comes. But in the end you get the feeling that Zusak wanted it to be a little confusing. Holocaust Germany was confusing. So, while the narrator may not work the best as far as telling the story goes, it definitely works the best as far as telling the message of the story, giving the Holocaust atmosphere, and capturing the reader go. He’s taken a fairly set genre—the novel in prose—and blown it to pieces. He breaks almost every rule there is to telling a story, using proper punctuation and grammar, writing in paragraph format, etc. but all that breaking of convention really aides in the story-telling somehow. I can count on one hand the times a book has made me cry. This book made me cry at the end even though I already knew what was going to happen and how it was going to end. The narrator gave away the ending a fourth of the way through the book, and I still cried when I read that ending. Now that is good story-telling!
Alysa's review here.

Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede
A thirteen-year-old professional thief living in the shady streets of late nineteenth-centur
y England is hired to look for a metal dish in the wagon of a street-performing magician. Before you know it, she’s caught up in the shady adventures of a “toff” (backstreet slang for “gentleman”) who’s been framed by some pretty vindictive aristocrats. Mixing magic, mystery, and some great Cockney slang, the book is fast-paced and fun, and great for anyone above age ten.
Patricia Wrede has a wonderful, witty sense of humor that keeps you laughing through each page. Girls are more likely to enjoy this novel since our main character is female, but some boys would probably enjoy it too, especially since the protagonist poses as a boy for most of the novel. The falling action and dénouement are definitely a little long. It almost seems like Wrede spends more time explaining the mystery’s solution than she does setting up the mystery to begin with. Having said that, this book is great fun and I would recommend it as a fun free-time read.

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
Zel is the re-telling of the classic fairytale Rapunzel. The story begins with a little girl and her mother making a special trip to town. You quickly find out that Zel doesn’t get to go to town very often. In fact, she doesn’t spend time away from her mother very often…or ever. She does really like animals and a special lettuce called rapunzel though. On this fateful trip to town she meets a boy. The boy plays the role of “prince” and proceeds to obsess over her for the remainder of the book. Eventually, you find out that Zel’s mother isn’t really her mother. Because the “mother” can’t stand to think that Zel could get married and leave her, she ends up locking Zel away in a tower using magical abilities for which she traded her soul to the devil. Zel spends months/years in the tower believing her “mo
ther’s” story that she must stay in the tower because something terrible is out to get her. Eventually, she starts to go mad, which is really interesting since pieces of the tale are told from her point of view.
The whole thing is very dramatic, especially since it’s entirely written in first person present tense. So, the story unfolds as if it’s actually happening. The disadvantage to this is that you really almost have to read it in one sitting. If you get out of the flow, it’s hard to get back in. She also switches narrators from character to character. Sometimes it’s the prince, sometimes it’s Zel, sometimes it’s the “mother.” Again, this makes it a little difficult to follow at times, but it also makes it very interesting because it’s almost like several re-tellings of the story in one. This re-telling really plays on mental and emotional energy. It’s almost depressing at points (i.e. when Zel goes psycho in the tower), but I wouldn’t label it as disturbing. However, while I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under the age of thirteen, I think it’s definitely worth a read.

Alysa's review here.

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to comment that in Mairelon the Magician Kim is actually sixteen-almost-seventeen. :) And I totally agree on The Book Thief . . . talk about compelling!


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