The end of 2018 is fast approaching, so if you haven’t read anything all year that’s knocked you over, or if you want to read at least one more book with the potential to do that, or if you’re looking for something you can use to measure all those other books against, you should try Markus Zusak’s BRIDGE OF CLAY.

It’s been a decade or so since his THE BOOK THIEF hit the shelves and made the world slow down a little as millions of people stopped to read and appreciate and think. But the wait for this one, as it turns out, was worth it.

It’s not THE BOOK THIEF. In scope, it reminds me more of his first novel, I AM THE MESSENGER. Rough-and tumble, Australia setting, young men with a tough history trying to cope with a tough present.

But steel gets hardened in the flame, right? And these five boys, brothers, are strong. To a fault. Fair. To a fault. They play favorites, hold grudges occasionally but drop them easily, stand up to conflict, take in animals, treat them with affection, fall in love, survive in the face of loss and separation and heartbreak, stick together with the glue of unswerving loyalty.

The writing is poetry. Not literally, but it IS poetry. It’s original, stylistic, expansively sparing. Don’t waste your time looking for clichés. Just enjoy the words, the way they’re strung together, separated, polished. Go get yourself a beer to drink after the smiles and laughs and a handkerchief to mop your face after the tears. BRIDGE OF CLAY is one of those books that you hate to see end. And that’s a cliché, but how else am I supposed to say it?

But it’s YA, some of you might be saying. I don’t read YA.

Yup, that’s probably where it would get slotted, if slotting is your thing. (And I know it is the thing of editors and publishers and marketers and book stores and libraries and school libraries and list-makers and everyone’s all-time favorites, critics.) But it’s YA the way I AM THE MESSENGER and THE BOOK THIEF and CODE NAME VERITY and SALT TO THE SEA and MONSTER and SPEAK and THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO and A MONSTER CALLS and THE CROSSOVER and CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE are YA. YA that’s so good it could match up against the finest of “adult” books.

Go ahead. Try it. Rank the books you’ve already read this year and then read BRIDGE OF CLAY. See where it ends up.

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