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, 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 today!