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Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Boyne)

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
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: David Fickling Books
PUBLICATION DATE: September 12, 2006
ISBN: 9780385751063
PAGES: 224
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


  • The book is very good, and if you choose to watch the movie, it is one of the few books that have equally good movie versions. You can almost follow the book page-by-page in the movie, albeit there are some subtle differences, but no "Hollywood revisionist" type stuff. I've actually had students who have asked NOT to see the movie. The only other book I can think of whose movie was so close to the book is Louis Sachar's Holes.

    • Yeah, I'll probably see the movie eventually, but I totally understand why people would rather not see it. I'm not in a huge hurry. I think actually watching that ending scene would be even sadder than in the book.

  • I have the same problem with the book that many did at the time of its publication. If you know anything about the history of Nazi Germany, you will find it beyond your ability to suspend belief that Bruno was so innocent. The youngest children were actively indoctrinated into the "master race" ideology in school and social clubs. They were encouraged to witness and even take part in the harassment of Jews. The entire culture was directed towards the military and fulfilling the promise of the 1,000 year Reich. It is also highly implausible that his father would have attained such a high position without being able to show "correct thinking" within his family.This was a totalitarian state, after all. He would not have been able to hide his children away from reality – especially his son. I have read the author's comments on this and am not satisfied that he did any research before writing the book. It's actually too bad because the writing is pretty good.


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