I started "reading" this book as an audiobook, in the car, but as it turned out, I didn't drive often enough, and the audiobook was due back to the library before I was even halfway finished. So I checked out the book, obviously. And wow. So glad I did this the way that I did. The book starts out pretty slowly; if I'd been reading it, I'm not sure that I would actually have gotten very far, and I would have seriously missed out.
This is a book that's set in Nazi Germany, in the household of a family who aren't Nazis, aren't even Nazi sympathisers, but who are scare and trying desperately to fit in. The characters are so compelling--Leisel, Rosa, and Hans Huberman, Max Vandenberg, and Rudy Steiner, our main characters, are all incredibly real. They are flawed in the best ways; they could all be ordinary people, but the way the book lets us see them makes them seem extraordinary.
Leisel's mother was taken by the Nazis, she watched her brother die of illness on a train on the way to Molching and the Hubermans, her foster family. Rosa Huberman yells everything and calls everyone an 'asshole'. Hans is a painter with silver eyes and an accordian talent. He teaches Leisel to read in midnight sessions. Leisel steals books from a woman who leaves her basement window open, just for Leisel. Leisel resolutely will not let Rudy Steiner, the boy with hair the color of lemons who once painted himself black in order to look like his hero, Jessie Owens, kiss her. Max Vandenberg is the Jewish man who hides in the Huberman's basement for two years, and writes two books for Leisel.
You don't expect a book about Nazi Germany to have a happy ending, but I don't think that I've ever read the end of a book the way I did this one--hunched over on the bathroom floor, sobbing and coughing for fifty pages.