Review: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

39999“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.

Rating: 2.5/5

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth, University of Iowa class of 2019. Double majoring in English & Creative Writing and Journalism. Twenty-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, and aspiring writer. Passionate about feminism and lesbian positivity.
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8 Responses to Review: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

  1. Pecans says:

    I find it really coincedental that you reviewed this book! I read this book for my English class and I actually have to turn in the essay about it today! But anyways, I don’t really think it was the authors fault making Bruno so naive and sheltered. I feel that John Boyne did this because he wanted to give a sort of unsettling perspective of the Holocaust. The whole idea that Bruno can’t pronounce these words correctly is such an eerie way to approach a subject like this. And also the fact that he was so young and sheltered from everything. He would ask questions but then he wouldn’t get straightforward answers.
    I do agree with you on the idea that Bruno is a very stupid mind year old. I mean there’s curiosity and then there’s TOO much curiosity and that makes a character unrealistic. I absolutely love your blog and your writing. I unfortunately don’t have a blog so I live vicariously through comments! 🙂

    • nevillegirl says:

      Neat!

      Hmmm. I still stand by what I wrote. I don’t think mispronouncing words was stupid but seriously, how could he not know what Jews are? I understand his not being able to get straight answers on WHY the Jews were hated, but… yeah.

      Aw, thanks! You’re welcome to comment more! *adores comments*

  2. Pecans says:

    Woops nine year old. I meant to say nine year old! Stupid iPods….

  3. DK says:

    Oh my god. I saw this in a bookstore literally two days ago but at the time I coudn’t purhase it because I’d very intelligently forgotten my wallet at home. And to see thia kind of review…well, maybe it’s a good thing I couldn’t buy it.

  4. Boquinha says:

    Interesting review! It’s been a while since I read it, but I really liked it. It was so unique and unusual to have a story told from that kind of a perspective. I don’t know how unrealistic it is – his not knowing about what Jews are. I think today’s generation of involved parents TALK with our kids. But back then, it was very much a children-are-to-be-seen-but-not-heard kind of thing.

    We have good friends and we talk all the time, with each other and with our kids. Our friends pride themselves on having open discussions with their kids and talking to them about many topics. I love these friends, but I think they don’t realize how much they talk more *in front of* their kids rather than actually *with* them.

    That being said, the dad is a former pastor who, several years ago, left being a pastor in the Bible Belt, moved north, and is now an outspoken atheist. This is a FREQUENT topic of conversation with us and our friends as well as us with our kids. They have even attended several non-believer/atheist meetings as a family. His son – who is 12 – was talking with our kids the other day and the topic of atheism came up and he asked (I kid you not), “What’s an atheist?” Seriously, we couldn’t believe it.

    So maybe it’s not so far fetched? Maybe it’s just odd to those of us who tend to think, talk, philosophize, write, argue, debate, ponder, etc. A LOT?

    (SPOILER ALERT)

    One more story about this book. It’s a short book. So, as you’re reading it and you get to those final few chapters, you kind of know, because there aren’t many pages left, what’s going to happen.

    Well, a friend of mine saw the movie without reading the book first and she said she was completely caught off guard by the ending. I bet that was really abrupt! When you’re watching the movie, you don’t really necessarily know how much of the movie is left unless you’re constantly looking at the time, which I imagine most people don’t do in a movie theater.

    Yet another argument for reading the book first.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Thank you!

      I think that’s what my family is like. My parents think they talk with us a lot and, well, they do – but about Big Subjects? Not really.
      I still think Bruno would’ve known *something* from school, etc. His sister would’ve been old enough for the Hitler Youth, methinks.

      Ha ha. That seems possible. A few years ago, I was talking with one of the younger sisters of my best friend. They’re Lutheran and she would’ve been about 11 or 12 at the time. She said she was going to be confirmed soon and wondered where we went to church. She’d never heard of atheism before and couldn’t really understand what it was. She’s not a stupid kid. Just not aware of it, I guess.
      …which is why I think forcing kids into religion is weird. Tell them that there’s lots of stuff that people believe in, and let them make up their minds when they’re older. Don’t make them go to church and fill their heads with ideas they’re too young to understand.

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