Friday, June 5, 2009

Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

I found John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas on one of those "listmanias" on amazon.com, as I was looking for favorite middle-school readers. Of all the YA books I've read in the past month, this has been close to the top.

The story takes place in Auschwitz, where nine-year-old Bruno moves with his parents and sister. Unlike most stories of the Holocaust, however, Bruno is on the other side of the fence: his father is a high-ranking Nazi officer. After months of wondering who all those people in striped pajamas are at the camp (he can see one small section from his bedroom window), Bruno sneaks over to the fence and meets a boy his age. They strike up a friendship that Bruno knows must be kept secret, even though he doesn't understand what is happening. The story, of course, has a devastating ending.

The book is flawed historically for various reasons. By age nine, for example, Bruno surely would have understood the word "Jew." Perhaps if he were 5 or 6 in the novel, his innocence would be believable; but a nine-year-old is old enough to really be taught to hate. And surely the son of a Nazi officer would have been fed a steady diet of hatred.

But I didn't care. I liked believing that a child could be so pure and innocent that he didn't know what was going on. I liked how he calls Hitler "the Fury" and Auschwitz "Out-with." My own eight-year-old still has moments when he realizes that a word he always thought was pronounced one way is really wrong ("Grape-Grandpa" instead of Great-Grandpa).

I love the perspective of the Holocaust from Bruno's view. This was so different from any other Holocaust novels I've read. I'd recommend this to ages 12 and up, only because the ending is so devastating. I think it would be a great introduction to talking about the Holocaust.

11 comments:

Marbel said...

I will look for this book. For some reason I had a completely different idea of what this book was about and rejected it though I kept seeing it on various lists. So, thanks for the review.

Rebecca Reid said...

I have heard about this book: it does, of course, sound devastating, but incredibly powerful. Thanks so much for sharing. I look forward to reading it.

Missy said...

This is one I want to read. Thanks for the review...I was expecting something a little bit different! :)

Scrap girl said...

I have this and can't wait to read it.

Laughing Stars said...

This book is on my daughter's shelf -- after reading your review, I'd like to read it. There's also a movie adaptation.

Karen (KayKay) said...

We've read the book and seen the movie. Both are devastating. I found the innocence of the boy more believable in the movie for some reason.

Literary Feline said...

This is one my list of books to read this year. I am drawn to books set during WWII, including the Holocaust and so this is a must read for me. It does sound powerful.

Cheryl said...

Great review, I've been wanting to read this.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I loved this book! The age thing is the thing that I hear about the most. They lowered his age in the movie. The movie was great. Definitely go see it.

Cindy-Still His Girl said...

I'm so glad to hear that you think Cassie (13) might be able to read it. I saw the movie (loved it; horrible; wonderful), and thought she could watch that, too.

I watched the extras on the movie, and one thing they talked about is that they found that many Nazi officers' families (wives) really were fairly clueless about it all.

Good book I read and really liked... Every Soul a Star (Juv.)

bobbert said...

Good reveiw. I think the pure innocence of Bruno was done purposely, to point out the flaws in the Nazi's and the adult world.I think the author should have made Bruno's age younger, so that his innocence would be more suitable.