The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyn

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas about a week ago, and I'm still not sure what I think of it.

But, before I go any further with this review -- a large part of this novel hinges on not knowing what it is about -- so read on at your own risk (or read the book, then come back and read my review).

From what I've been reading on other blogs, this seems to be a book that readers either love or hate. Leila (on bookshelves of doom) writes that she was so frustrated by it that she gave up a couple chapters in.

And trust me, I was seriously tempted to give up on it myself because there were so many things about it that were just WRONG. As A. O. Scott describes it in the NY Times Book Review:

"Out-With” is one of several translinguistic malapropisms meant to show the boy’s unworldliness: he refers frequently to a personage called “the Fury,” who once came to dinner. Readers who know that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp and that Hitler was called the F├╝hrer will be able to recognize Bruno’s solecisms. Some may also note that there is something illogical about them, since Bruno’s native language is presumably German, in which the portentous puns would make no sense, not English, in which they do.(*

And yes, this bothered me. It also bothered me that Bruno, a 9-year-old boy who has attended school (the NY Times review mentions that he is privately tutored, but this is only true after he moves to Auschwitz), has never even learned what the phrase Heil Hitler means or who the Fuhrer is, considering that in everything else I've ever read or seen, Hitler's picture was in ever single classroom of every single school.

I also thought that a boy of that age might have been a member of the Hitler Youth, but after a little research, I discovered that compulsory membership began at age 10 -- not sure if that means that Boyne did his research, or that he was just lucky. Bruno's sister Gretel, however, is 12, and that does complicate matters... but this is a blog post and not a research paper*, so I won't try to figure that out here. (Though, if you're interested in the Hitler Youth, I highly recommend Susan Cambell Bartoletti's Newbery Honor book on the subject)

Nevertheless, I was listening to it while I was driving to and from work, and the narrator was very good (Nice British accent, sounded a bit like Jim Dale), and I kinda-sorta had to finish it because of the cybils. So, I stuck with it, and, despite all its failings, I did enjoy it. The novel really picks up when Bruno meets Shmuel, a boy on the other side of the fence. From that point on, the reader knows that something is going to happen and that it probably isn't going to be good.

I just can't figure out who the audience is for this one. Boyne himself says (on the back of the book) that it is not a book for 9 -year-olds, and it is generally shelved in teen or YA sections. I think teens are either think that it is too childish because of the language or be shocked by everything that Bruno doesn't know. I mean, by eighth grade, I thought that Holocaust had been taught to death (and I'm part of that odd species that enjoys history). I'd be very interested to hear what some actual real-live teens have to say. (And of course, I'd love to discuss this with my fellow kidlit bloggers!) If you liked this book, or hated it, I'm really interested in knowing why.

*While this is not a research paper (thank goodness!)... I can't help but think that it would make an awesome topic for a masters thesis -- something on how the holocaust is portrayed in children's lit, and whether students are getting completely Holocaust-ed out like I was. (Of course, I guess coming up with thesis topics before I even apply to grad school is kind of like counting your chickens before they hatch, but oh well!)


Alexa Rae - NJ said...

I am writing a review on this book right now actually! I am curently 16 years old and i was doing some research on what other people figured the thesis or intentions of this book were, when i came across your blog. I did not HATE the book, however, it was not one of my favorites. I completely agree with you when you mentioned how on the back of the book it said it was not intended for nine-year-olds but the language was so childish i was tempted countless times to put it down. I actually DO believe it should be for nine year olds because as a teenager/YA I was extremely frustrated with Bruno's oblivious thoughts. Nevertheless, I was shocked from the ending, but I felt it was necessary. I could not have imagined a happy ending or rescuing Shmuel because truly, that is not the way the Holocaust would have been. All in all I agree with your blog/review because the intended audience is in a way mixed up and a little too childish for young adults, like myself, in high school.
-Alexa Rae, NJ

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this book, but i did find a few parts it a bit childish or repetitive, but like you said once Bruno met Shmuel it did get more interesting. I have to write an essay on this book, and i am really stuck on finding a thesis for this, if you have any ideas please share! thanks :)

Anonymous said...

I loved this book! I think its stupid to think to much about the malapropisms because the reality is this book is primarily a childrens book. Children don't care how accurate/ creditable stuff like that is.

Anonymous said...

I'm a freshman in high school and I absolutely loved this book. Like John Boyne said himself on an interview with BBC, when you read this book you have to read it with your "head or heart." Either you have to accept the book for it's true meaning about the friendship of the two boys with your heart or you can pick apart the inaccuracy involving the holocaust. From what I can see most people who stop reading this book, read it with their head.

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