The Book Thief

Book: By Markus Zusak.

Inciting Event: When orphaned Liesel must have her bedding changed after a nightmare, her adoptive father Hans Hubermann discovers the book she stole from her little brother’s grave. He begins teaching her to read it—the beginning of her journey of word-fueled hope.

First Plot Point: The Jewish refugee Max seeks sanctuary at the Hubermanns’ and hides out in their basement. This is the beginning of a new world for Liesel—both as the Nazis’ war comes to her doorstep and as she begins sharing her heart and her love for words with this fellow wanderer.

First Pinch Point: The mayor cancels the washing Liesel’s adoptive mother Rosa does for himself and his wife. Liesel is devastated, both because her family needs the money and because the mayor’s wife allowed her to read in her library. When the mayor’s wife attempts to give her a gift of a last book, Liesel tearfully throws it back in her face.

Midpoint: Max becomes deathly ill and must be moved up to Liesel’s room to recover. She reads to him and brings him small gifts, willing him better.

All of the plot points in this book are very gentle, but this Midpoint gives us the shift into the active second half by heightening the sense of danger, the stakes, and Liesel’s understanding of Max’s presence in her life.

Second Pinch Point: The bombing of Munich begins. Liesel and her adoptive parents must hide with the neighbors in an air-raid shelter. Max must remain hidden in the Hubermanns’ basement. Liesel calms the frightened neighbors by reading them one of her books.

Third Plot Point: After Hans is whipped in the street for giving a piece of bread to a fallen Jew on his way to a work camp, Max leaves in fear that the Hubermanns’ house will be investigated. It is not, but Hans is drafted into the Army as punishment.

This is a good example of how the “worst thing” at the Third Plot Point doesn’t always have to be as dramatic as death. Particularly in a story such as this, where even worse things are yet to come, the Third Plot Point must often be gentler. But the pall of death and the sense of despair are every bit as strong, thanks to the facile writing.

Climax: Hans returns, thanks to a broken leg, but the real turn into the final confrontation with Death is the blatant foreshadowing: the narrator tells us exactly what will happen and who will die at the end. This is also where Liesel brings her journey with words to a climax as she begins writing her own story.

Climactic Moment: After Hans, Rosa, and Liesel’s best friend Rudy are killed in a bombing, Liesel loses her finished book. Death—who has been narrating the entire story—picks up the book, so that he can then tell us about Liesel’s journey.

Resolution: A short series of epilogues shows us what becomes of Liesel and Max in the aftermath of the war.

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