The Messenger by Marcus Zusak
Zusak is technically a 'young adult' author, though to be honest, I've never seen him that way. While he may write shorter books, nothing simplistic or immature exists in his writing. If you read his first book, The Book Thief, you completely understand. That book featured Death as the narrator, during the Holocaust in Germany. Yet it was different than literally every other book about that time period, that I have ever read. Zusak sees life uniquely. Many of my students have been so entranced by The Book Thief that it actually was able to turn them onto the lost art of reading, something they never thought could happen. The Messenger is so far removed from his previous book, it is like another author wrote it, except for the uniquely obscure way of looking at life. The main character, Ed, is quite a bright young man who is choosing to drive a taxi, hang out playing cards with a tight circle of friends, fight with his mother, and do...not much with his life. Yet one day, a card comes for him in the mail - not a greeting card, but a playing card from a deck. Ed spends the rest of the book figuring out a variety of 'messages,' while at the same time figuring out life. This book is quite intriguing, would be an interesting book club read, and is appropriate for all age levels. I was quite fascinated by both the story and the prose style. It was also a stellar reminder of how we are able to touch people, whether they be strangers or friends, in both simplistic and complex ways.
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
Okay, Picoult has been my 'dirty little secret' in the past. Always on the bestseller list, but not always with the best books, the woman can usually write a story that I cannot put down. My Sister's Keeper (great book, lousy movie) and Nineteen Minutes (horrifying look at a Columbine-type situation) were not easily forgotten and read quite quickly. However, I had not read one of Picoult's numerous books in quite some time, having gotten a bit burned out as well as disappointed in some of her later books. The Storyteller, though, is another home-run. As I read the blurb on audible.com, it seemed fairly straight forward...young girl (Sage) meets old gentleman (Joseph), who asks her to help him kill himself. Yet, as the story plays out, we find out the hidden Nazi secrets of both Joseph and his brother, as well as Minka, Sage's grandmother and a Jewish prisoner. The story of the Nazi soldier and the Jewish slave laborer are extraordinarily intense, and I've read numerous Holocaust books. This book is extremely well-researched, using details and stories from past survivors. Throw in a bit of a love story with a Department of Justice lawyer, a scarred and tortured main character, a slimy funeral director, and Picoult has another pretty good hit on her hands. Though many of the Auschwitz scenes are graphic and disturbing, these scenes are not thrown in gratuitously but truly lend the story the authenticity needed to make it 'real.' I highly recommend.