The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne


“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.”

Before you read any further, this review will contain spoilers for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. If you have not read the novel or seen the film, you should stop reading now.

John Boyne’s, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, tells the tale of Bruno, a nine-year-old boy who moves to Berlin with his family during World War II. Bruno moves to Berlin after his father is promoted to Commandant of a concentration camp (which Bruno thinks is pronounced ‘Out-With’). Being only nine-years-old, Bruno doesn’t know or understand what his father’s job entails or what the war truly means. All he knows is that he wants to be an explorer ad he’s suddenly got a whole new house and yard to explore. In his adventures, he stumbles upon a fence. On the other side of this fence is a camp full of people wearing ‘striped pajamas’. One of these people is another nine-year-old boy named Shmuel.

The two boys soon learn they have a lot in common, including having the same birthday, and Bruno returns to the fence on a regular basis to talk with his new friend. Neither of the boys have any idea why they’re on different sides of the fence or why one of them wears striped pajamas and the other doesn’t. They’re just two nine-year-old boys who like eating chocolate and playing checkers.

This book is truly a masterpiece. The first time I read it I was in eighth grade and it had such an impact that I have read it multiple times since.

Between required school reading and my own reading choices, I’ve read a lot of books on the topic of World War II. But none like this. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas gives readers a look into what it might have been like for children of the holocaust. Children on both sides of the fence. Instead of being presented from someone on the front lines of war or from a spouse of someone in the war, we get a unique reading experience by seeing the whole situation through the innocent eyes of a child.

There are many amazing aspects of this book, but one thing in particular that I think Boyne manages to succeed in is something that I find some author’s don’t always grasp. He writes children convincingly as children. While many author’s write excellent child characters, I find a lot of them tend to write children as being excessively brilliant or they will add some other trait in excess. While this is not by any means a bad thing, I don’t find a lot of literature now where kids are just kids. I’m not quite sure what this is, but whatever the reason, Boyne manages to take regular children and, without adding anything crazy, he created something magical.

Despite how good this book is, there was actually a lot of controversy and criticism surrounding this book. A lot of people had an issue with the fact that if Boyne’s novel was historically accurate, you wouldn’t find a nine-year-old in a concentration camp, especially not in Auschwitz. Many said that it did not portray the holocaust properly and feared that people would think the camps weren’t actually that bad. Personally, I think any book that depicts two young children dying just because one of them was Jewish cannot be mistaken for anything but awful.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a moving and insightful novel. John Boyne writes convincing characters and puts them in situations completely out of their control and beyond their understanding. However, instead of dwelling on it and being miserable about the situation, these two children find comfort and friendship in each other, despite coming from seemingly different worlds.

This amazing novel shows that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what situation you’re in, at the end of the day we’re all the same. Children are not born hateful, they are taught hate, and that message is clearly stated in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it. It’s absolutely phenomenal and it’s one of those books that when you start reading you can’t put it down.

Have you read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? What did you think?


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