The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

Publisher: David Fickling Books
Format: Paperback, audio book, eBook
Author: John Boyne
Reviewer: Melissa on April 28th, 2010
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In 2007, when traveling through Eastern Europe – Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary – with a brief stop in Austria, my sister and I made the time to travel from Krakow, Poland to Auschwitz. We wanted to visit the concentration camp – though we aren’t Jewish – because we both think that knowing and understanding the history of events, like the Holocaust, are important to maintain the collective, human memory. Since that trip, books and films about the holocaust have hit me in a different way than they did previously. John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is no different in that regard. In fact, Boyne’s depiction of the Nazi agenda as both hypocritical and the makers of their own ill fate drew me in and will do the same for readers of all ages.

For those who don’t know, TheBoyInTheStripedPajamas is about a nine-year-old Berlin boy named Bruno, who has to move with his family to the country when his father gets a promotion within the Nazi regime. While in his new home, with the chilling name Out-With, he goes exploring and meets a Jewish boy named Shmuel wearing striped pajamas and they develop a fast friendship. Each day they meet from opposite sides of a barbed wire fence, from opposing sides of the world order at the time. For a nine-year-old, he is quite naïve for the son of an SS officer about his understanding of the world around him, but I personally was able to suspend my disbelief to accept that Bruno might not have understood not only why him and Shmuel weren’t supposed to be friends, but also what was happening on the other side of the fence.

While the main character is only nine, don’t think that this is a middle grade novel – the emotional gravity of the situation makes it ideal for a YA audience. Although this is an emotionally difficult read at some points (any book that deals with the final solution is), I found myself unable to put this novel down once I’d begun reading. I’d pick it up at any chance, albeit while holding my breath at various points. The overall story is pitch perfect, but I did have some trouble digesting the ending. To avoid giving it all away, I’ll say this: the way the novel concludes, which is different from that of the movie version of Boy In The Striped Pajamas The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, is very unbelievable. I can accept that Bruno might not understand what human beings are capable of doing, but by novel’s end, the reader is left to think that his parents are similarly naïve. Someone else may chalk it up to denial, but for me the end was disappointing, especially when I was so engaged up until then.

However, at the same time, I think that anyone who wants to teach their children about the Holocaust or to get a different perspective on an well-told tale would do well to use The Boy In The Striped Pajamas. While the events are fictionalized, there is a ‘truth’ to this novel that cannot be denied: friendship can exist and flourish between fences of all sorts if we only let it.

Buy The Boy in the Striped Pajamas The Boy In The Striped Pajamas today!

  2 comments for “The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

  1. Melissa
    May 26, 2010 at 4:09 am

    I don’t understand how the parents are shown as naive at the end of the book. Yes, they were in denial and hoping there was some other explanation, but as I understand it the father traced back his son’s steps and found out what happened – and it so overwhelmed he allows the “other soldiers” (americans) take him away months later.

  2. May 26, 2010 at 4:41 am

    Thanks for your comment Melissa!

    SPOILER ALERT: I concede that denial is indeed one way to look at his parent’s reaction. However, I tend to think that if I were the commandant or other solider, who found Bruno’s at the base of a fence, I would check every avenue – and one such place that he doesn’t think about is the extermination camp on the other side of the fence. Again, I also did see the movie before I had a chance to read the book (in fact, I wouldn’t have even known that a book version existed except because I’d seen the movie). Personally, I find the conclusion of the movie is more believable and a lot more powerful than that of the novel.

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