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 to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people 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 from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
I’ve had The Boy in the Striped Pajamas on my shelf for a long time, years even. I knew the story subject matter was about the holocaust and the fact that the title indicated a child in a concentration camp, I honestly wasn’t sure I could handle reading it. But, I knew I would read it, because it’s an important book to read. Difficult stories teach us important lessons.
The story was as heart-wrenching and difficult as I thought it would be. I tried to imagine reading this as a middle school child who is not familiar with the subject matter. Discussion with a child is imperative for this book. Without context, there isn’t enough in the story alone to paint the full picture of the events as they unfold. Pre-discussion about WWII would be necessary. Conversation throughout the reading may be helpful, but certainly discussion after reading would be important.
There were times that I grew frustrated with protagonist Bruno’s innocence and naivety and often had to remind myself that he was only nine years old. Of course a child at that age would naturally be more self-centered and not be able to quite put the clues together of just how different someone’s world can be, even though they only live on the other side of a fence. Bruno was aware there were differences, but his highly protected German up bringing prevented him from even understanding the conditions that Jewish people were forced to endure. As he tried to find common ground with his new friend Shmuel, he kept missing the mark as to just how different their lives were, even though he was seeing the situation before his very eyes.
The Author’s Note at the end of the book, explains beautifully John Boyne’s thought process as to how he chose to tell his story from the vision that he saw in his mind. I found understanding this almost comforting at the end of the heart-wrenching story. He put so much thought into the point-of-view character, while hoping to assure respect for the victims and survivors of the holocaust.
I absolutely recommend this beautifully written story for teens and adults, and for children 11-13 with an adult available to discuss and support.
This is an unsolicited review, I purchased this book from a local bookstore.
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Ember; Reprint edition (Oct. 23 2007)
- ISBN-13: 978-0385751537