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: