Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Monday, June 6, 2016

Publisher: David Fickling Books
Publication Date: September 12th, 2006
Rating: 2 Stars
Source: Audiobook from the Library
Pages: 224

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Powerful and unsettling. . . . As memorable an introduction to the subject as The Diary of Anne Frank.” —USA Today
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 to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people 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 from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Bruno, a nine-year-old aspiring explorer, and his family are relocated after his father becomes the commandant of Auschwitz. There are no other children to play with so Bruno ignores the new rules set for him and explores along the fence until he comes along a boy his age inside the fence just sitting by himself. They meet in that spot everyday and become friends.

Bruno is like any other little nine-year-old boy. He likes to play with his friends. He likes to explore. He isn't terribly fond of his twelve-year-old sister. He looks up to his father and wants to be just like him.

But he is also unrealistically uninformed about anything going on in Germany at this time. I find it insanely unrealistic that the nine-year-old son of a concentration camp commandant wouldn't know what the Fatherland is. Or what a Jew is. I don't think that he would consistently mispronounce the Fuhrer as "the Fury" or Auschwitz as "Out-With" despite multiple corrections. I don't think that he wouldn't know what "Heil Hitler" means and I don't think that he would think it means goodbye. Didn't they have like Hitler Youth or something like that? Wouldn't the child of a very 'promising' Nazi soldier be a part of that? Wouldn't his father be kind of a failure for the fact that his son doesn't know any of this stuff?

Fast forward to when he meets Schmuel at the fence everyday. Those conversations make me want to shake Bruno. I mean, I get that he's just a little kid, but he turns every horrible thing that Schmuel says to him into a way that he can talk about himself. He tries to argue about every little thing with Schmuel because he doesn't agree with Schmuel's views on a lot of things. Bruno has the most obnoxious one track mind and only seems to hear what he wants to hear.

I just don't find it believable in any way shape or form that Bruno was friends with Schmuel for a full year and wouldn't understand basically anything the Schmuel feels. He doesn't seem to understand why the people in the fence are so scared of the soldiers. I mean, I understand that he's a little German boy and obviously sees a different side to the soldiers, but he's seen how the interact from his window in his room and it doesn't click in his head until like the very end how the Jewish people feel about the soldiers.

One thing that Bruno really fixates on when he's talking to Schmuel at the fence is the idea he has that Schmuel has all sorts of friends inside the fence that he gets to play with. I don't understand how talking to this little boy for a YEAR, Bruno didn't ever grasp that no one inside the fence plays. Things are not fun inside the fence. Things are awful. He can see that everyone inside the fence is miserable. He can see that Schmuel is miserable. Schmuel has told him the horrors of what has happened to him, but he just chooses to overlook all of that because he's lonely and wants more kids to play with.

I just find it so hard to believe that anyone could be as stupid and naive as Bruno is in this book. Pretty sure that most nine-year-olds I know are smarter than that. He was friends with Schmuel for a *****YEAR***** and couldn't grasp the awfulness of where he was.

There were three or four phrases repeated obnoxiously often during this book. One of them being something about how he always tried to be honest with himself and another about the items he has hidden in the back of his wardrobe that were nobody's business but his own. Like, these phrases were frequently and in the exact same words every single time.

Overall, I think this book was really disappointing. I generally did not enjoy being inside this boy's head. I found the ending to not be as impactful as it was in the movie. I would not personally recommend this one. But if you're into WWII historical fiction dealing with the Holocaust, you could possibly enjoy this one, maybe. 


  1. Contrary to popular belief, the book isn't always better than the movie; I agree. I loved this movie and always think about reading the book, but never have the time. Now I don't feel as guilty about it. Thanks for the review.

    1. Anytime! I was so excited about this book because I loved the movie so much! But the book is 100% not as good as the movie. I am really glad that this was a really short audiobook that I listened to. I'm still just floored by how stupid that main character is. I can't get over it! And just at the end, they don't even figure out what happened to him until like a year later. I just couldn't with this book.

  2. I will have to give the movie a try sometime.

    Yes to all that you said. I think you had to be 10 for Hitler Youth, but I might be wrong there... but surely he would have known more. Unless he was mentally deficient, which would have made him an Undesirable, so even that theory doesn't work. I was really hoping he would wake up, catch on, and try to help his friend escape, but nooooo.

    Flaws aside, I felt SO UNSETTLED for days afterwards. I listened to the audio too.


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