The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamasby John Boyne

Nine-year-old Bruno must leave his comfortable home in Berlin that has five floor and a banister for sliding down and his three best friends for life and his grandparents to live in a desolate countryside where there are no children to play with.  He must do this because his father has a very important job.  Bruno can see many children, and adults for that matter, out his window but they all live on the other side of the fence.  Bruno thinks there must be another town beyond that fence but doesn’t understand why they are there and he is here and they can’t mingle.  One day when exploring, because Bruno wants to be an explorer when he grows up, he meets Shmuel, a boy with his exact same birthday who lives behind the fence.  Bruno wonders why Shmuel is so skinny and has grey skin and is always hungry and scared and sad and why Shmuel and the others behind the fence all wear pajamas.  What is the secret behind the people who live behind the fence and Bruno’s father’s important job?

Reaction: I really liked the concept and I even liked the author’s writing style but I found the book flawed.  First, the biggest problem was Bruno’s totally naivete.  He’s nine and probably ten by the end of the book.  In reality, he would have understood much more about what was going on.  In the book, Bruno knew nothing and understood nothing which seems entirely impossible considering his father was supposedly running Auschwitz.  He didn’t understand what Jews were and why they were different; he didn’t know the difference between the star sash and the swastika sash but thought he would rather wear the star; he didn’t even know he had moved from Germany to Poland.  Sheesh.  In the end, Bruno’s total lack of understanding for what was going on around him somehow made the story less emotional for me.  My other pet-peeve was with some of the language used.  For example, Bruno and his sister called their new home Out With — play on words with Auschwitz.  BUT Bruno speaks German and “out with” in German is not Auschwitz or even close to it.  Bugged the crap out of me.  There were other similar incidents where a play on words didn’t quite add up.  I pretty much agree with everything Ralph Blumenau said in his review on Amazon.  I may still use it in my booktalks because I did really enjoy Boyne’s writing.  For example, “out of bounds at all times and no exceptions” being used every time his father’s office was mentioned and the subtleties of what was happening with the other characters in the background — did I imagine that Bruno’s mother had an affair with Lt. Kotler?

What’s next: A movie!  And it looks more fleshed out and million times sadder than the book.  Here’s the trailer:


About Casey

I am a librarian who loves all things reading, especially teen literature.
This entry was posted in Reviews, Reviews - Teen and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

  1. Doret says:

    I tottally agree with your reaction. Bruno is only nine but you’re only as young as your situation allows you to be. Its war time and his father is in the army yet Bruno knows nothing. At times I got the feeling that even the boy the striped PJ’s was like come on Bruno get a clue but he was too tired, hungry and scared to explain anything. Bruno says “Out With” throughout the novel and it annoyed me because the authors never once has an adult say Auschwitz., so the reader knows what Bruno is trying to say. There wasn’t even a key in the back of the book to clear up any confusion. Though I do think this book probably makes a great movie.

  2. bookworm4life says:

    Now that I’ve been reading more books about WWII, specifically The Boy Who Dared, it seems less and less likely that Bruno could have been so clueless. Hitler’s brainwashing about Jews and non-Germans started long before the war, long before Aushwitz. It was taught in schools. There is no way Bruno could have not known, even at 9.

    Also, for the longest time adults in the novel didn’t say “Jew” either. It was referenced as “that word” when adult characters used it derogatorily toward another character. I didn’t like that either.

    The more I think about it, I don’t think I’m going to use this one in the booktalks.

  3. Valentina says:

    You just nailed it, I had basically the same thoughts, but unlike you I wasn’t impressed with the writing either, I felt some of the repetitions and expressions a bit patronising, but maybe it’s me.

    • bookworm4life says:

      I can see your point but for some reason it worked for me, while the repetition that some peopled loved in McKinley’s Chalice annoyed me to no end. Go figure!

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