The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne


“And one final thought came into her brother’s head as he watched the hundreds of people in the distance going about their business, and that was the fact that all of them – the small boys, the big boys, the fathers, the grandfathers, the uncles, the people who lived on their own on everybody’s road but didn’t seem to have any relatives at all – were wearing the same clothes as each other: a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads.”

As a historian you gain an intimate familiarity with the more sensitive topics in our past. The Holocaust and the horrors of World War II is one of the more recent tragedies that the modern population is aware of and is remembered because of how many people and families it touched. I’ve always been a firm believer that while it happened over half a century ago, it must be remembered and recognized. How this is done in literature is often a touchy subject, particularly when trying to teach the younger generations. John Boyne has written a wonderfully, but respectfully, touching story of two young boys, Bruno and Shmuel, who live on different sides of a fence.

This review won’t be as in-depth as those that I have written previously. And I won’t be reviewing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as much as giving a nod of my head to Boyne for handling such a sensitive issue with such humility and integrity, while still weaving a story that is educational in the reality of how worlds collided during that trying time and how a young boy might have seen it.

Much as I have always believed these stories need to be told, I also firmly believe that one of the more appropriate ways to do so in through the eyes of a child. It allows a way of relaying events of a serious nature but with the innocence that allows it to be read by a younger audience. When reading the Author’s Note Boyne makes a statement that resonated with me:

The issue of writing about the Holocaust is, of course, a contentious matter, and any novelist who explores it had better be sure about his or her intentions before setting out. It’s presumptuous to assume that from today’s perspective one can truly understand the horrors of the concentration camps, although it’s the responsibility of the writer to uncover as much emotional truth within that desperate landscape as he possibly can.

Throughout the writing and rewriting of the novel, I believed that the only respectful way for me to deal with this subject was through the eyes of a child, and particularly through the eyes of a rather naïve child who couldn’t possibly understand the terrible things that were taking place around him.

He wrote Bruno as that naïve child. The German son of the camp’s overseer has no idea of what sits outside his window and even when he meets a young Jewish boy named Shmuel he can only make childishly appropriate explanations for the differences in their appearance and situation. As the reader, who is aware of where Bruno lives and what is happening to Shmuel, you cannot help but be slightly annoyed with Bruno’s selfish concerns but that, in itself, is the mind of a child.

The age group this book is intended for certainly varies. Adults could read it and respect the seriousness of what was happening even though the eyes of a child. Teens (which is the category where this book is usually found) could read it and learn about a dark time of our history without some of the more horrific details found in other venues. Whether or not this is suitable for younger readings, such as twelve and under, is a judgment call. The book is written in a simple manner and so in regards to the reading level it would acceptable. However, the topic itself might make it appropriate only for a reader who has a sense of maturity and could handle the more serious elements of the story, which while masked by a child’s naivety, can still be detected.

John Boyne has taken a sensitive approach to a truly sinister element of history in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and written a story that teaches about this time while still being respectful for the lives lost during it as well. For the reader the fence represents the division between two very different worlds, but for Bruno the fence was merely something that kept him from playing with another small boy named Shmuel who for some reason always wore grey striped pajamas.

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books written by John Boyne: He has published numerous books for both adults and younger readers.


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Filed under Historical Fiction, Teen

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