The first thing that caught my attention about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is its plain cover and the lack of a synopsis on the inside cover. The editors state that any synopsis of the story would spoil its effect. I was also unaware it was a young adult book until the review copy arrived. All this being said, what I found inside is a familiar, simple story with a powerful message told in a completely new way.
Set in World War II Nazi Germany, the main character is a nine-year-old named Bruno who is the son of a Nazi officer. After the “Fury” comes for dinner, the family is moved to “Out-With” (the young boy doesn’t understand the words “Führer” or “Auschwitz”) where his father is named the Commandant of the camp. The boy befriends a young Jewish boy named Shmuel and with a lack of prejudice and plenty of innocence, the two quickly become friends through the fence of the prison. Through the eyes of a child, we see how adults form prejudices, hate is born, and how they both bleed into all aspects of life. We see how we are not born with prejudice and hate as a part of our thought process. These are things we are taught. It is a work of fiction and thus historical liberties are taken with the facts.
Even though it is a young adult book, the message is applicable to all. The concepts and circumstances are seen through the eyes of a child. But with many gay couples having and adopting children, this is a book that can teach a lesson and spur conversations about prejudice, ignorance and a brutal time in history. It’s not a pleasant topic but one everyone needs to think about – especially with the world in the state it is. We would like to think that nothing like this could ever happen again but with each passing day I question this. Suggestion: Adults – read the book first and decide for yourself if it’s right for your child.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is available at local bookstores, online and at your local library. John Boyne was born in Ireland and lives in Dublin with his partner. Several of his books have been published in the UK. This is his first book for young adults.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne
David Fickling Books, 216 pp., $15.00