Now for the review I promised!
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is a wonderful book. This was my first time reading it, mostly because historical fiction is not my favorite genre, and after visiting the Holocaust Museum when I was in sixth grade, I really have no desire to see more of the horrors that took place in those awful places. I do believe that everyone needs to learn about the Holocaust, but I am not at all fascinated by the subject, and sometimes people’s obsession with it seems to me to be a bit too macabre. However, John Boyne’s story is honestly one of the best portrayals of the time period I have ever read, with the exception of actual historical accounts from people like Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom. Boyne’s choice to tell the story from the vantage point of a young German boy is genius.
The book begins with a boy named Bruno who comes home from school one day to find out that his family has to move because of his father’s job. He doesn’t understand why, and although it is clear in what time period the story takes place, Bruno seems completely oblivious to how the world is changing around him. He relocates and discovers many new things about his family, his country, and what it means to be a true friend. His innocence and naïveté colors the entire novel from beginning to end, and his friendship with the boy in striped pajamas, Shmuel, is strange and wonderful and sad.
This book is listed as a higher reading level than what it actually is. I believe that the subject matter is what makes it a little more difficult, but honestly, any middle schooler could read it and easily understand the tone and vocabulary. I read it in a few hours over a couple of days. At first, it seems a little ridiculous that this nine year old boy has no idea what the purpose of this camp is that his father runs, but after a while, because his character is so solidly himself, it makes perfect sense. His point of view is a combination of childhood innocence, unscathed because he is privileged and sheltered, combined with a certain stubbornness and denial to see and grasp the terrible things surrounding him. I would recommend this book to anyone in a heartbeat, either to introduce the topic of the Holocaust, or to reinforce the lesson. It is beautifully written.