The story sets up the premise straight away; this will not be a completely happy story, because the first voice you hear is death's, and the first scene you see, and little boy dies. From then on we follow the story of his sister, Liesel Meminger, as she is given up by their mother to live with the Hubermann's, who will be her foster parents in Germany; the thundercloud that is Rosa, and the kindly soul that is Hans. Liesel isn't very good at making friends, but she soon discovers a bond with her foster father; they both like to learn and to read stories, and, although she never meant to, she begins to steal books to feed this enthusiasm. But this is wartime Germany, and Jewish people are being threatened by the Nazi party. The Hubermann's are Jewish sympathisers, and when a young man with a connection to Hans comes to their doorstep, they hide him in their house for as long as they can.
So the main thing that really stands out in the book is the idea of death as the narrator. In the book, death tells the story of how he came to be haunted by Liesel Memminger, and it all started with a white death. The next time he saw her, the world was red, and the last time was black, three colours that were never even mentioned in the film, yet I felt they were very significant in terms of imagery. It was nice to see that the first scene was quite startling white, but it was a shame the colours were not carried through to the rest of the book.
The second thing that stands out is the period that this film is set in; Nazi Germany, and the fact that the main characters are hiding a Jew in their basement is truly compelling. The film tells this story very well, with a real sense of the friendship that develops between Max and the family, most of all with Liesel. It also shows the fear and the effect that the party had on the community, with many people being afraid of having a Jewish-sounding name, or of fraternising with sympathisers. The absolute humanity in the film is excellent, and I loved the way that relationships developed within the plot.
The acting is one thing that is both good and bad; Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson are truly incredible in their parts, but for me the main character, Liesel, didn't really match up. Maybe it was the fact that Liesel, as a character, isn't particularly talkative, and is quite a normal girl, despite all her bravery and her thievery. The last scene in the book, for me, was hugely emotional, and yet that emotion did not translate into the film. Instead, we saw death and destruction, but it was all muted, and it gave way into a conclusion that was quite bland, compared to the ending that death gives in the book.
Overall, the film is very good, and if you have not read the book, it will make you want to read it. It is ideal for people who enjoy films that have a historical background and human interest, for example; The Help, The King's Speech, Pan's Labyrinth (highly recommended) or, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas or Schindler's List. 8 out of 10.