The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne
This book wasn't really what I anticipated. Okay, I'm kind of speechless about this right now so I suppose I'll start with the overview.
Bruno is a nine year old boy whose father is a Nazi officer. He is forced to move with his family from Berlin to Poland, next to a concentration camp. Bruno doesn't understand why the fence is there, who is behind it, or why. He does notice that everyone he can see beyond the fence is male and wearing the same striped pajamas. One day, Bruno goes exploring near the fence and meets another nine year old boy named Schmuel. They become friends and begin meeting every day at the fence to talk to one another. Bruno can never quite understand why his new friend has to be separated from him by a fence, why he's so thin and pale, and why they can't play together.
This book was just sad and oh-so-frustrating. How did Bruno not understand what was going on?? How could he not know that these people were behind the fence because they were Jewish? I mean, you would think that he would have been explained these things by his father, since his father was a Nazi officer. Although, there's argument to be made that Bruno and his sister weren't allowed to hear about it because of their mother since neither one of them were part of the Hitler Youth... AND THE ENDING! Oh my GAWD! I never ever saw it coming. I was horrified and appalled and somewhere I think that I was sort of happy thinking that it could have really happened so maybe some Nazi officer out there was able to realize what he was doing to those people and children....
I think that one of the most frustrating parts of this book is that it's not a children's book...and it's not an adult book....but it's a little too simplistic language-wise for it to be Young Adult even...so it really just doesn't fit anywhere neatly. Which I suppose is true because the Holocaust wasn't a "neat and tidy" event, but I do think that this story could have benefited from some more mature language and style. I suppose that John Boyne was trying to write it with the innocent view of a nine year boy to make the point that not everyone, even those with parents in the thick of it, knew what was happening or why.
Overall, I liked it. It was a very moving story and I think that it could be easily added to the standard Holocaust/WWII curriculum of The Diary of Anne Frank. Although, I wouldn't be surprised one bit if this book ends up on the Frequently Banned/Challenged Book List next year. I think I may have to rent the movie...
8.5 out of 10. Quick enough of a read with a good story line (and ending!) that there's no excuse not to read it. Definitely should be shared with older children interested in Holocaust history, but be around to discuss it with them. (there were even discussion questions in the back of my copy of this book)