YA Fiction/Historical Fiction – Holocaust, Published 2006
Read June 2010, 218 pp.
Challenges: 2010 YA Reading Challenge
Shelf Life: 1 year, 6 mos. – Purchased 12-16-08
If you start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy named Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence.
Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter one.
This book is all about the ending – that final blow – that leaves you stunned thinking did that really just happen?
As there are so many wonderfully written reviews on this one, I will try not to rehash the plot too much. This book offers a point-of-view rarely told – that of the son of a German Nazi Commandant. But this nine-year-old boy has absolutely no clue what his father does, why he’s moved from Berlin to “Out-With,” or why a fence separates him from his new friend on the other side, Shmuel, who always seems to be wearing striped pajamas.
Plus, as you can see by the book description, the author wants the reader to discover this story page by page as it slowly unravels. Boyne describes in an interview that the idea came to him “originally as one single image, of two boys sitting on either side of a fence, having a conversation. And I knew where the fence was. I knew those two boys shouldn’t be there. They had no business being there.”
About the targeted audience: While this book has been categorized under the YA label, and while the reading level itself is certainly there, I find the subject matter a little too mature for that age group, meaning that they would need some parental guidance as there will be a lot of questions concerning the history behind the Holocaust and concentration camps. I think this provides an excellent opportunity for older children to learn of the horrors that Bruno, himself, is blind of seeing. There is a lot of reading in between the lines here. The author has provided a “present day” scene, if you will, that does not allow for all the knowledge we know now in hindsight.
About the protagonist’s grave naivete: Bruno is very naive and does not understand what is going on around him. He is mostly concerned about himself – why does he have to move?, why does he have to lose his three best friends, why does he have to live in a shabby house with only three floors instead of five?, why can’t he cross the fence? I think this book works so well because of Bruno’s ignorance of his surroundings. No adults in his life explained to him what was happening around him or why they had to move or what exactly his father did as a German soldier. I think the author best describes his reasoning for Bruno’s extreme innocence: “I was interested in juxtaposing [the extreme evil in the subject of the Holocaust] with an extreme innocence. And the two would go together.”
I have seen much debate as to if it would even be possible for Bruno to be so unaware of what was happening. I think many adults were very much in denial about the horrors of Hitler and the concentration camps. Over time, Bruno matures a little and he starts to look outside of himself and wonder about the life of his friend Shmuel and risks it all to help him find his father.
I say Pajama, You Say Pyjama: I’m guessing most of the “pyjamas” were changed to “pajamas” for the US version, but I saw a few “pyjama’s” creep up.
Overall Feelings: I feel that this was a well written and thought out story of the Holocaust. It is written sparingly and is a very quick read, but is one that will definitely stick with me for awhile. I often became annoyed by Bruno’s ignorance at the beginning of the story, but as I continued and unraveled more of the fable, I started to believe more and more in the message that the author conveys.
However, I think it is very crucial to keep in mind that this is a story based on factual events. It is a fable written to not only bring to light the Auschwitz or the other concentration camps and the horrors that happened there, but also to recognize that genocide continues to exist today, that the German concentration camps did not happen that long ago – not thousands or even hundreds of years ago – but the 1940s. It brings to light the incredible cruelty of the fences we continue to build that separate us.
I highly recommend reading Night by Elie Wiesel for a harrowing first-hand account of the Holocaust from a survivor.
“Who are all those people outside?” he said finally.
Father tilted his head to the left, looking a little confused by the question. “Soldiers, Bruno,” he said. “And secretaries. Staff workers. You’ve seen them all before, of course.”
“No, not them,” said Bruno. “The people I see from my window. In the huts, in the distance. They’re all dressed the same.”
“Ah, those people,” said Father, nodding his head and smiling slightly. “Those people….well, they’re not people at all, Bruno.”
Some of My Favorite Striped Reviews:
I’m looking forward to seeing the movie version.