“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.”
I was excited to begin this book. I had heard so many good things about it. Unfortunately, by the end the foremost thing I’d gained from reading it was what not to do. At first I thought I disliked The Boy in the Striped Pajamas because I’d been spoiled for the ending, but then I realized that had nothing to do with it. There really were issues – specifically with characterization.
The concept is great. I love the idea of having such contrasts – an innocent little boy growing up next to a terrible concentration camp. It gave the author the chance to say so many Deep Things, but he missed all those opportunities.
Bruno wasn’t written realistically. I could ignore the other irritating aspects of the story, such as the phrases that were repeated too often and the historical inaccuracies (I highly doubt there were large unguarded sections of Auschwitz where little boys could sneak away), but I draw the line at Bruno. I hope the author doesn’t have any children because if he does he must not pay much attention to them, for Boyne has no idea what kids are like.
Bruno is nine years old. A very stupid nine years old. Back to my observation about contrasts – kids and war are a thought-provoking combination. It’s certainly not one I would ever wish on anyone in real life but it’s something interesting to explore in a story. War is awful; kids are innocent. OK. Neat.
But Bruno is too innocent. He has no idea what Nazis are, or how to say the Fuhrer’s name properly. You’d think he’d know these things, especially since his dad is a Nazi commandant. Oh, and he has no idea what Jews are. Really?
Kids are not stupid. Yes, sometimes kids may be a little confused because they don’t have all the facts on something – but they’re not stupid. It would be one thing for Bruno to not understand why the Nazis hated the Jews, for him to be innocent in that respect. It’s quite different to have him unaware that Jews are hated, or that they exist at all.
Kids are capable of a lot more than we credit them for, and I found that missing in this story. I expected something different, I suppose – I expected a story about a little boy who understood more or less what was happening but felt overwhelmed, felt that he couldn’t do anything to fight back because of his youth.
It’s not that hard to do. It’s been done before. Harry Potter. The Hunger Games. Gregor the Overlander. A Song of Ice and Fire is a great example – children narrate alongside the adults, and are just as important to the plot. Number the Stars and The Diary of a Young Girl are also wonderful and they’re about the same war that features in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
The premise wasn’t bad. The premise was actually brilliant. The fact remains, though, that even the greatest premise in the world is not going to rescue your book if the rest of it isn’t believable.