After the death of Liesel's younger brother on a train to Molching, on the outskirts of Munich, Liesel arrives at the home of her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, distraught and withdrawn. During her time there, she is exposed to the horrors of the Nazi regime, caught between the innocence of childhood and the maturity demanded by her destructive surroundings. As the political situation in Germany deteriorates, her foster parents conceal a Jewish fist fighter named Max Vandenburg. Hans, who has developed a close relationship with Liesel, teaches her to read, first in her bedroom, then in the basement. Recognizing the power of writing and sharing the written word, Liesel not only begins to steal books that the Nazi party is looking to destroy, but also writes her own story, and shares the power of language with Max.
One night, Max secretly leaves the Hubermanns' home because he thinks he is trouble for the Hubermanns. He is caught by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp with Liesel watching. Quite a long time later, bombs fall on Molching, blasting the Hubermanns' home and killing the Hubermanns, but not Liesel, as she was in the basement writing her book. It is later told that Max survived the concentration camp. We also are exposed to the personality of death as the narrator. Over the course of the book he proves to be a morose, yet caring character.