The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

Posted 26 October, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 41 Comments

Tags: , ,

Title: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Author: John Boyne
Published: 2006 Pages: 216
Genre: YA Fiction
Rating: 3/5

My poor brother has been asking me to read this book for months now (he’s thirteen). I’m always reluctant to borrow books from people because I know my turnaround will never be as quick as if I loan out a book. There’s so many I’ve obligated myself to read for challenges or for authors/publishers, not to mention the giant shelf of TBR books. I promised him I’d read BSP for the readathon and I’m so glad I did. When I texted him that I had finished the book he texted me back “it’s about time.” Yup, it sure is.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas begins with nine year old Bruno and his family who live in a nice big five story home in Berlin. Bruno’s father is a very important person, though, and has been asked by the Fury (Hitler) to take post at a strange camp in a far away place called Out-With (Auschwitz). Bruno is upset because the house is much smaller and his sister Gretel (a Hopeless Case) refuses to play with him. As Bruno begins to explore the new home, he discovers that there is a giant camp across the yard with lots of men and boys all wearing the same striped pyjamas. In his exploration, he meets a boy sitting by the fence of the camp whom Bruno befriends.

What I loved about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the simplicity and innocence. Bruno doesn’t understand why his parents have moved, he doesn’t understand the camp beyond his home’s yard, and he doesn’t understand why his friend can’t come across the fence to play or why Bruno can’t go to the other side of the fence. There is something so sweet about Bruno’s innocence and refusal to judge those who are a little different from him. I also have a tough time believing, though, that the son of a Commandant who is overseeing one of the largest concentration camps in the world doesn’t know what a Jew is and whether he is a Jew or not. That aside, Bruno’s innocence came across as genuine.

“What exactly was the difference? [Bruno] wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore uniforms” (100).

This is a short book that can be read within a couple of hours, and while I do recommend it, it isn’t as powerful as some of the other books I’ve read about the Holocaust or World War II. Could this partly be because it was written for young adults? I don’t know–I’ve read some pretty powerful young adult books (The Book Thief is one I highly recommend). I guess the unbelievablity of the story continued to tug away at me. I was shocked by the ending of the book, and even though it’s not hard to guess this book would not have a happy ending, it left my heart hollow.

Have you read this book or seen the movie? How did you feel about it?

Join Cym Lowell’s Book Review Party Wednesday!

41 Responses to “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne”

  1. Eva

    I avoid Holocaust movies and books as much as possible (I did read The Book Thief, and thought it was incredible, even though I cried through the last 100 pages), so there’s no way I’m reading this one (and I’d have the same believability issues as you). But that’s so neat your brother wanted you to read a book! :)

  2. I’ve always been very interested in Holocaust era literature and am always surprised I haven’t gotten around to reading this one yet. Also, it’s cool that your little brother recommends books to you. I have a 13yr old (former) babysitting charge that regularly recommends young adult literature for me. I find this information priceless since I’m soon to be a school librarian and want to know what kids truly enjoy reading.

  3. I really did not like this book. It was a fast, easy read, but too simplistic. I hated the ending, but it was not high on my list before that… I usually like most books I read, but this is one I do not reccomend

  4. I felt the same way – Bruno’s innocence was the best thing about the book. While I was reading it, I was completely wrapped up in his personality. After I’d finished, though, I did have similar questions – how could he possibly have missed so very much? Still good though.

  5. *Carol – I think the reason I put this one off for so long is because it didn’t grab me. Good for the readathon, though!

    *Eva – Unfortunately there were lots of things in the book that were completely unbelieveable, but it might be a good introduction to the Holocaust for younger people. I cried the last half of Book Thief, too.

    *Bermuda – I think you make a good point about innocence among evil but Bruno’s naivete was hard to believe when he was so surrounded by Nazi idealism.

    *Bookshelf Monstrosity – If you haven’t read The Book Thief yet, read that first! And if you have any other YA books for boys at that age I’d love to hear–so many YA books I read about on the blogosphere are aimed at girls, it seems.

    *Duck – The reason why I recommended this one is because it seems like so many people really liked it. The ending was awful–I don’t see how something like that could have possibly happened, but I’m trying to let it go. :)

    *Meghan – I agree that Boyne did a great job with Bruno’s personality and I really liked Shmuel, too.

    *Bart – You should pick it off the shelf! It’s so short it will only take you a few hours to read.

    *Natasha – I actually hadn’t heard good things about the movie so I was too eager to see it. Maybe I’ll rent it, though.

  6. Like Eva, I tend to avoid Holocaust-related books, so I probably won’t read this one, but I’m glad it worked for you for readathon!

  7. I liked this one a little more than you did (4/5). I also saw the movie and thought it was great.

    At the end of the audiobook there was an interview regarding whether it was YA or not. This is the gist of what was said (from my blog post):

    “Boyne also said in an interview with his publisher that he wrote this novel as a book – not as an adult or children’s book, just a book. He believes that classifications are more for where to place a book in a store or library; however, it was published as an adult book.”

  8. Hi Trish,
    I listened to this audio book a few months ago for my book club. I liked it, but found it so depressing. I do think the ending was a little predictable, though. Other than that, I think it’s worth the time.

  9. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but it sounds really good and it’s been on my wishlist forever!! One of these days I’ll get to it :/

    I have a younger younger brother too! He’s 14 :) He’s a half brother, but I totally consider him a full brother :p He’s not a reader though :/ I push books on him all the time, but he refuses to read them….sigh…

  10. I enjoyed reading this story, though I felt so sorry & sad for the characters in it. I haven’t watched the movie yet, so I’ll have to look out for the DVD. Have you seen the movie, Trish?

  11. I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, but I’ve gone from being really exciting about it to thinking it WILL pale in comparison to some of the other Holocaust books I’ve read.

  12. I read this about a year or two ago and it’s a powerful book. It’s suitable for young readers and adults will appreciate it also.

  13. I LOVED The Book Thief…well as much as you can love a book on such a serious subject. I do plan on reading this one eventually and watching the movie but who knows when that will be. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  14. I shelved this book a few times before finally deciding to see it through. That Bruno made me so mad. But I thought the ending was quite powerful, and I don’t think it would have had such an impact if Bruno had not been so naive.

  15. I haven’t read the book but oh man the movie was very moving and I liked the different perspective it showed. I’d be interested to see if you liked the movie better or worse than the book.

  16. I’m glad to hear that the author made a 9-yr-old seem like a 9-yr-old. So many times they use a child but then make the child some kind of prodigy. It does seem like Bruno would have heard his dad talk about Jews, though.

  17. It could be less poweful because it is YA. The book thief although marketed as YA was written with adult fiction in mind :)
    I still want to read this book though, it’s pretty short from what I saw.

  18. This book affected be immensely, I think because of Bruno’s innocence and the consequent way that things were described. So simply, even though they were so complicated. After I finished, I did question how it’s possible that he didn’t know, but I suppose it is possible that he was shielded. The simple questions Bruno asked stayed with me for months and I admit to many, many nightmares following reading the book. I have no interest in the movie, therefore!!

  19. Really disliked this one, to me it felt twee and overly obvious in its moralising. Especially that ending! Kind of all the things young adult readers are usually quoted as saying they hate.

    I also found it unbelievable, I think kids are smarter than Bruno in general.

    It wasn’t originally marketed as YA in the UK though, it started out advertised as an adult book as did ‘The Book Thief’. It’s really a crossover book in the UK, an adult book with a young adult protagonist that the publishers think could appeal to both markets.

  20. The ending? My mouth was gaped open and I kept thinking, “!”. I’ve considered watching the movie, but don’t think that I could handle the ending visually.

  21. I enjoyed this book too, but I did have some issues with it similar to yours (you can read my review if you’re interested…
    As for the Book Thief, it was marketed as a YA book in NA, but the author didn’t intend it to be YA. So maybe that’s why it was more powerful?

  22. I’ve been wanting to read this since I watched the movie (and cried). I agree that at that age, considering who his father was, he would know who a Jew was. However, as a parent of a 9-year-old, I’m not sure he’d understand all that went on with the concentration camp. That’s a lot for a kid to take in.

    Great review, as always!

    Would it be okay to link your review on War Through the Generations?

    Diary of an Eccentric

  23. You read this first and Ethan Frome later? Wow, did you also read The Boy Named It or The Glass Castle? Depressing reading list, Trish.

  24. I listened to this on audio just recently. I had never had a huge desire to read it for whatever reason but someone recommended it because it was a good audio and I have a very limited selection to choose from at my library. I didn’t love it, but it was good. I guess that’s the best way to put it. It was a good audio, though!

  25. *Michelle – I really wish the story would have been a little deeper and longer as well. And yes, you NEED to read The Book Thief! :)

    *Amanda – It’s a great readathon book but I think if I had read it any other time I would have been even more disappointed. Oh well.

    *Joy – You’re not the only one in the comments to mention how this book was marketed (also The Book Thief). Interesting that this was published as an adult book.

    *CherylS22 – This one was depressing but I’ve yet to find a book about The Holocaust that isn’t! Have you read The Book Thief? I’d really recommend that one.

    *Chris – We’re like twinkies! :) My brother is also a half but we grew up together so I’ve never considered him anything less than a regular brother. Now I’ve got to know–how old are you?

    *Melody – I haven’t seen this movie and I don’t know if I’m going to. So sad!

    *Nymeth – I don’t want to color your opinion, but I think you might be right about this one paling in comparison. It’s so short, though, that it’s still worth the time.

    *Alice – To me it seemed that this book was targeted more to younger audiences but it sounds like it was published as an adult novel! Interesting how things get marketed in different ways.

    *Samantha – The Book Thief was an excellent book, huh? I pass it on to anyone who is willing!!

    *Charley – I think Bruno’s innocence and naivete is key to the novel, especially the ending. Curious why he made you so mad! :)

  26. *AmusedbyBooks – Do you have a tough time reading a book after you’ve already seen the movie?

    *Lisa – At one point the little boy even meets Hitler–how could he not have any idea of what was going on!! Who knows, maybe it is possible?

    *Violet – I’ve found it interesting in the comments to see how books were marketed differently in different places–seems some places Book Thief was targeted to YA and others adult and same with this book. This book will only take you a few hours to read.

    *Joanna – This book was pretty horrific, especially the ending. I couldn’t believe how the last few chapters went! I don’t blame you for not wanting to see the movie.

    *Jodie – I’m surprised at how polarized the comments have been! And I find it interesting that this book was originally marketed as an adult book–not to downplay YA books but I would have expected a little more depth from an adult book. (can already see the rotten tomatoes flying at me).

    *Christina – The ending! I know what you mean–I still can’t believe how everything actually happened in the book. Don’t think I’d want to see that visually either.

    *Vivienne – This book is a little upsetting but not in the same way as some other Holocaust books I’ve read. I think because the main characters are so young (and think young thoughts) it kind of downplays the seriousness of the situation?

    *Lahni – So in the UK The Book Thief was targeted to adults and in NA to YA–so interesting how all of that works! But yes, there was more of an intellectual connection with BT for me than this one.

    *Anna – I agree that the character couldn’t understand–I’m not sure I even understand at 28! Which is a point this book is trying to make, I think. The rest was just too far-fetched, though. Of course you can link it.

    *Paxton – LOL-yes, a number of kind of downer books for the ‘thon. I did read Frankie-Landau Banks, though, which was very delightful. :)

    *Kailana – I think this one would make a good audio book. I have troubles getting as much of an emotional punch from listening to a book rather than reading it–maybe because I’m not used to the medium? Glad you mostly enjoyed it.

  27. I’ve heard quite a few people comment on the unbelievability of the book. Sounds like I’d be better off to read The Book Thief or The True Story of Hansel and Gretel.

  28. I read this about three weeks ago and the next day I saw the movie-it is a chilling book. Maybe not as great as the Book Thief or Milkweed but for sure worth reading. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  29. I’ve heard great things about this book. It’s supposed to be a FABLE to yes, the unbelievability is there for a reason. I’m looking forward to it and the movie!

  30. I liked this book okay. I have not seen the movie, although it struck me that it would be a better movie than it was a book, for me, something about visual mediums make it easier to overcome the suspension of disbelief…

  31. Would you believe that I read about half and then decided not to finish? I couldn’t stand Bruno. I don’t generally like child narrators. I read a spoiler to fill in what happened and let it go.

  32. *Terri – I haven’t read The True Story of Hansel and Gretel so I don’t have an opinion there, but The Book Thief is outstanding. Definitely better than this one…

    *mel u – I haven’t read anything about Milkweed so I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for coming by.

    *Rebecca Reid – You are the first person who has said this is supposed to be a fable and when looked at in those terms the book as a whole starts to make more sense. I’m not sure how clear that is to the readers, though, given the comments here?

    *Susan – I do know what you mean about visual media making it easier to overcome disbelief, but I don’t know how well I could handle the ending!

    *Lisa – You’re not missing much, I think. Bruno didn’t bother me and I thought he was kind of cute, but a few others have mentioned they thought he was annoying…

    *Michelle – The Book Thief is outstanding, huh. This was a good book but it doesn’t live up to those types of expectations. I hope you enjoy it, though!

  33. Trish, A blogger mentioned that it was on the title page of their copy that it was a fable. Apparently that was the subtitle. I don’t see it showing up on Wikipedia or any of the Amazon copies so not sure how accurate that is, just what I’d heard.

  34. *Rebecca – You’re right! I’m not very perceptive when it comes to that stuff but sure enough my copy says “A Fable” right underneath the title–on the title page, not front cover. Interesting–it does make the book make a little more sense thinking about it in those terms.