Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

I've finished several books in the last couple weeks that I haven't done reviews for, other things being on my mind when I sit down to post. One of these is one that Davan and I listened to together while doing chores in the morning, mostly. I knew the general premise and wondered if it would be too intense for Davan, but went ahead with it anyway. The end result...well, that's what the review is about, no? (Warning, there are hints that are spoilers in the review.)

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is told from the point of view of Bruno, a 9 year old German boy and son of an officer during WWII. His father gets assigned to be the commandant of Auschwitz and takes the whole family with him, including Bruno and his 12 year old sister. Bruno is devastated by leaving Berlin and his "three best friends for life" and hates it at Auschwitz, where there are no children to play with...At least not that he's allowed to play with, for on the first day, he notices lots of people across the fence, including children. He is told not to go near the fence ever. It's "out of bounds at all times and no exceptions."

Bruno, though, being into exploring and bored out of his mind, goes exploring and finds a section of fence away from prying eyes where there is a boy on the other side of the fence in striped pajamas. This boy's name is Shmul (I'm not sure of the spelling because we listened) and the two strike up a friendship.

Shmul is always hungry and Bruno brings him food, but doesn't really understand that Shmul is really starving and often eats the treats on the way to the fence. Bruno remains clueless about Shmul's circumstances to a frustrating degree about all things - not just food. Davan was super frustrated by this, even more so than I, who understood it was happening for the purpose of the plot, but still found it annoying.

We listened to the author do a question and answer after the book and he was asked about this keeping Bruno so naive and he answered this two ways. First, he said that people focusing on that rather than the overall morality of the story were focusing on the wrong thing. I think, though, that if it's so glaring as to detract from the message, then it's a problem and I think it was in this case. Second, he justified Bruno's ignorance in a variety of ways. Most Germans remained ignorant. Bruno had very limited exposure to the world outside of his small circle. His parents really didn't want him to know.

At any rate, his continued ignorance is all that made the end work. After having lived at Auschwitz for over a year, Bruno, his sister and mother are all to return to Berlin, his mom having convinced his dad that Auschwitz isn't a good place to raise children.

Bruno goes under the fence with pilfered stripped pajamas to see where Shmul lives. Things go wrong.

Davan, as a sensitive young lady, had a really hard time with the end. Anyone should, really, but it is part of it all. This book is not for entertainment, really. It's to give the reader a sense of the horror of the senseless deaths that occurred at the concentration camps. It should be hard hitting. Still, I wouldn't attempt this book with a child much younger than 12 (although probably anyone over 10 is going to be super frustrated with Bruno's ignorance and even a fellow 9 year old would probably be insulted), particularly if that child is a sensitive soul.

I'm going to give The Boy in the Striped Pajamas two scores. As entertainment, I give it a 3. As a history lesson for a young person, I give it an 8.

No comments:

Post a Comment