March 6, 2010

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Young Adult Fiction - Historical
2006 David Fickling Books
Finished on 2/26/10
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Berlin 1942. When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

When I learned that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was coming out on DVD, I decided I needed to make time and give it a read since I'm one who likes to read the book before watching the movie. Now that I've finished the book, well, let's just say I'll be skipping the movie.

Over the years I've become quite a fan of historical fiction, particularly that of World War II. As a matter of fact, my current book is set during WWII and is quite engrossing. And, one of my absolute favorite books is The Book Thief, which, like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, focuses on the life of a young German child during the war. However, that's where the similarities end. John Boyne badly missed the mark with his simplistic tale of a young, naive boy (the son of a high-ranking German soldier), living literally next-door to Auschwitz. The story consists of one-dimensional characters, improbable situations, a ridiculous literary device (the usage of puns to describe Auschwitz and the Fuhrer), and a trivialized plot that barely held my interest and which does no credit at all to the weighty matters with which it attempts to deal.

As I read, I began to wonder exactly for whom this book was written. It lacks the sophistication of any teen book I've read in the past few years, and I found myself comparing the reading level to that of The Penderwicks, which was written for young readers. Obviously, this is not appropriate subject matter for a seven- or eight-year-old, unless handled much more carefully and delicately than Boyne manages here. Yet, it reads as if young children, not teens, were the target audience. What we have here is a book aimed at teens but which talks down to its audience.

Final thoughts: Meh. Read The Book Thief instead.


  1. I'm glad I watched the movie instead of reading the book. Even though I suspected the end it still punched me in the gut. Parts of it seemed improbable but I thought worthwhile.

  2. I have this book on my shelves at my middle school. I'm interested in reading this one because of your review. Thanks!

  3. Wow, you are the first person I've heard say that they didn't like the book. We passed it around amoung my book group and everyone has loved it. For me, it is the juxtaposition of the innocence of the young boy next to the greatest horror ever. And then the ending of justice. Goose bumps. In our library we have it in the kids section and not the young adult section. I'd like to talk to a child who has read the book and see what they get out of it.

  4. Oh, I'm disappointed that you didn't like this one. Although, I do understand your reasonings. I think I liked the movie more, but thought the book was very good.

    I was perplexed as to the "target audience" as well. Here's what I wrote on my post regarding that very issue:

    Boyne also said in an interview with his publisher that he wrote this novel as a book - not as an adult or children's book, just a book. He believes that classifications are more for where to place a book in a store or library; however, it was published as an adult book.

  5. Oh, I loved this book and the movie as well; sorry u were disappointed. It was shocking.

  6. This was recommended to me by the children's librarian (picture books through young adult), and I just can't read it. It takes a rare book about this subject for me to be able to read it. Even as a child, I was so troubled by it. If I believed in past lives, I would think I had lived through it. I think you wrote such a good review, Les.

  7. Booklogged - I was a little concerned that I was being too critical of the simplistic writing, but once I saw that other reviewers on Amazon had a similar reaction, I didn't feel too guilty about my harsh criticism.

    Staci - I'll be interested to hear what you think. Apparently it's one that people either love or hate.

    Melanie - Well, we all have different tastes in writing styles and plots, don't we? ;) I'm still not sure I'd feel comfortable with my seven-and-a-half year old granddaughter (or niece, of the same age) picking it up at such a young age.

    Joy - I'll have to pop over and find your review. Not sure how I missed it while writing mine. Regarding Boyne's comment about publishing it as an adult book, I have to say it's not something I'd want a young child to read. I know my granddaughter and niece are perfectly capable of reading the words, but the mature subject matter is too disturbing for their age group.

    Diane - I guess I'm in the minority. Not the first time. :)

    Nan - Oh, gosh. If reincarnation really is a possibility, I hope you didn't experience the horrors of the Holocaust in a past life, Nan.

    Thanks for your kind words about my review. It was difficult to write.

  8. It's been a great conversation.

  9. This is one of those book that I'm always thinking I should try. I know the story, I know the twist, yet I still wonder how the author handles the material. Yours is perhaps one of the only not-so-positive reviews I've read and I think you make interesting points. I guess I'm still not sure if I'll ever read this one.

  10. Melanie - Thanks! :)

    Tara - If you do, come back and let me know what you think. I'm on a WWII kick right now. Just finished Skeletons at the Feast and want to read a memoir called All But My Life by Gerda Weissmann Klein. And, of course, I still want to read some of Stephen Ambrose's books. But for now, I'm relaxing with a "gentle read" by Rosamunde Pilcher.

  11. I read a review very similar to yours about a year or so ago and opted not to read this book based on that review. Sounds like I've made the right choice.

  12. Nancy - I was wondering if you ever read this. I think you mentioned it on your blog at one point, but not in a review.


I may not answer your comments in a timely fashion, but I always answer. Check back soon!