Can you believe, after all my years in the library, I had never actually read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? I’ve booktalked it and promoted it, but even my husband was surprised when I said I hadn’t read it before. Well, I have now! While it wasn’t the cry-fest I expected, it was incredibly well-written and moving. That ending will stick with me for a long time.
AUTHOR: John Boyne
PUBLISHER: David Fickling Books
PUBLICATION DATE: September 12, 2006
SOURCE: my library
GENRE: historical fiction
SETTING: Auschwitz, 1943
GIVE IT TO: MS, HS, adults
SUMMARY: Nine-year old Bruno moves with his mother, father, and older sister to Out-With, where Bruno’s father works as a high-ranking Nazi Commandant. Bored and lonely for a friend, Bruno starts exploring the area and meets Schmuel, a boy exactly his age who has a shaved head, wears striped pajamas, and lives on the other side of a fence.
REVIEW: This short book took me a few weeks to read. It’s not that it isn’t good, it just wasn’t all that interesting for a little while. Bruno doesn’t meet Schmuel until about halfway through. Up until then, the reader is learning about how bored Bruno is every day and trying to read between the lines of the daily observations of a nine-year old living in the shadow of Auschwitz.
Aside from being a bit bored with the first half, I also thought I already knew the ending. I based my assumptions on the trailer for the movie (I haven’t seen the movie), so I didn’t have anything really pushing me to the finish line. Turns out, I was wrong about the ending. It was actually nothing like what I expected it to be.
This book–especially that ending–will stick with me for a long time. I can understand why this has become a modern classic, and I love that middle school teachers I’ve worked with have taught this as a class novel. I homeschool my eighth grade son, and we will be studying the Holocaust this year. He’s been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, but it’s been a few years. At that time, he was nine years old, so he only visited the Daniel’s Story section. He says he remembers going, but that’s about it. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas would be a great book for us to read and discuss together as an introduction to the Holocaust.
THEMES: Holocaust, genocide, WWII, friendship, innocence
THE BOTTOM LINE: I’m sure most libraries serving teens have at least one copy of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It’s a modern classic and a worthy addition to any middle or high school reading list.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it on the library shelves and as a class set.
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Engrossing: 4/5
- Writing: 5/5
- Appeal to teens: 5/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: none
- Violence: mild; all violence is alluded to rather than described.
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild; Bruno’s mother drinks sherry daily