The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Published: September 12th 2006
Goodreads badgePublisher: David Fickling Books
Pages: 224
Format: Book
Genre: Historical Fiction/Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Berlin 1942

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.

First of all I understand why this book is either loved or disliked. I didn’t know this was classed as a children’s book until I picked it up and I was a little surprised but I have read kids books on just as tragic topics so it isn’t unheard of. As for the book where do I even begin?

From the moment I started reading this book I was greeted with a child’s voice that had such innocence within it and observation with no deep thought it was wonderful. Bruno is a nine year old boy in his own world with his own priorities. His world changes around him and he doesn’t understand and tries to make the best he can out of what he is made to do. What I think people find hardest is how naive Bruno seems to be, he is only nine after all, and what is wonderful about children is they don’t understand adult prejudice until it is drummed into them and they become adults. Bruno doesn’t understand why things are happening, he just does as he is told, tries to fill in his own answers and pieces together the rest.

I liked that this story made you understand that there were more people involved than just Hitler. It is so interesting to see what happened from the point of view from an officer or someone within the system but also apart from the consequence. There was so much more going on during this era and it does not just boil down to the actions of one man, this book shows just what goes on behind the scenes of the man in charge. And there is no better angle than through a child, even if his family is involved, he is unaware of what it means.

It is sad and unsettling this book because you know it is perfectly true to some point. Within the first few dozen pages you realise that this very well could be, and as you read these phrases that are drilled into these children and hear the lessons they are taught, you know that this was what was happening. Now I say again, yes this is fiction, not exact historical fiction, and it is YA fiction so give it some liberties before slandering it. It tells these events in as good a way as say Two Weeks With The Queen tells you about homosexuality and AIDS. It is a story told through the eyes of a child, that has to be the biggest advantage this story has.

Writing style was rather like A. A. Milne at times with the repetition and matter of fact and selfish way children can sometimes think and behave and this I felt added something by reinforcing this was a little boy who was being left in the dark and didn’t even know it. Bruno has such an innocent look on the world and he is constantly trying to figure it all out. His conversations with Shmuel at the fence show just how naive he is, and how very wrapped up in his sheltered world he seems. But also Boyne writes through Bruno in such a way that it perfectly matches the mind of a nine year old boy worried about his own problems and ignorant to the greater picture.

Boyne maintains his style of describing without actually telling and a lot of things are described but not written down, and I trusted this to get me to the end. This approach was good because it keeps a lot of the explicit violence and unpleasantness about the events in this book out but it allowed Boyne to keep the story realistic allowing you to easily figure out what was going on. As I read and I saw the pages start to thin on one end I really didn’t want to go on, and with so few pages left I knew it was going to be wrapped up quickly. I got through it and I’m glad I did. The ending was a bit unfulfilling but expected. It gives you a lot to think about and you certainly don’t stop thinking about it quickly.

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