Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This month my book club discussed The Boy In the Striped Pajamas by Irish author John Boyne.

I was quite stunned by this book, a book meant for children but one that carries very adult themes.   I’ve read other books about the Holocaust but never one like this.

Bruno is a 9 year old boy, the son of a Nazi commandant living in Berlin in 1942.  After the “Fury” comes to dinner, his dad takes an ‘important’ job and the family has to move far away to a smaller home outside “Out-with”.  Bruno is really unhappy about this because there is no one to play with and nothing to do at the new house.  He is lonely and bored until one day he looks out his bedroom window and sees dozens of men and children, oddly all wearing striped pajamas.  The curious Bruno decides to do some exploring to find out what those people are doing there.

I worried about this innocent boy going too far with his exploring, and then it occurred to me that I was worrying more about the child of a Nazi than I was about all the people in the book wearing the pajamas.  They were all innocent, of course.  Did I believe that boy’s life was more important than the others?  I really had to question myself about why I was so concerned for him.  Perhaps because I already knew the fate of the others- I knew they were doomed.  That knowledge allowed me to put those feelings aside and put all my worrying into Bruno.

It was an odd experience reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas because the reader knows more about what’s going on than the sheltered young Bruno, and can understand what’s happening while he cannot.  And, because you’re reading about the Holocaust, you know it can’t end well, but the ending of this book was like a punch in the face.  I’m not kidding- I never saw it coming.  I have no desire to spoil it for you here so I won’t comment further- just know it’s shocking.  I’m glad I didn’t know more about the book before I picked it up because I like being surprised like that.

Parts of this book were a little hard to swallow (a child of a Nazi commandant would be that clueless?) but I got past that and didn’t let it spoil the book for me.  Kids are self absorbed, so perhaps he really wouldn’t have known anything about what was going on.

My 12 year old read the book too but I had to explain the ending to her as she hasn’t learned very much about the Holocaust or concentration camps yet.  She was quite horrified (by what I told her, not by the book) and asked a lot of questions.  I’d recommend the book for mature 12 years olds, on up.  It opened the door to a good introductory conversation on the topic between my daughter and me.

For our book club meeting we watched the movie.  For the most part it was true to the book, however the ending was a bit different.  In the book, the parents are left wondering what happened and eventually figure it out.  In the movie, they know immediately.  I thought the movie was good but (as usual) I preferred the book.

You can find book club discussion questions for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas at ReadingGroupGuides.com.

The Boy In the Striped Pajamas is different, well written, heartbreaking, and tender.  And shocking.

Very highly recommended.

For the FTC:  I bought this book with my hard earned cash.
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55 Responses

  1. I hadn’t really considered reading this one despite all of the great reviews I’ve read. But I think you’ve changed my mind, if for no other reason than that you didn’t see the end coming!

    • I hope you read it, Lisa. Come back and comment if you do. It’s a really good book.

    • that review was great wat you said. I’m readin it myself at the moment and i think it’s a delight!!!! XD xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • I may be the only minority opinion, but I don’t believe it was written for children. To me the author created a naive Bruno because we are naive about Nazism ourselves. Most of the people who lived through WWII are dead and those of us alive now cannot imagine such horror. This book offers a simple story of two extreme possibilities. The ending was predictable. It couldn’t have a happy ending-it was WWII! I didn’t read the book for facts. There are thousands of factual accounts out there. It’s fiction; a story. Perhaps some cannot fathom a naive nine year old. But they may be looking at Bruno as if he were a nine year old boy in today’s world. They might be more tolerant of his innocence if they thought of him as a six year old. And maybe consider that children are naive. Through our experiences and relationships we learn and become.

  2. I would like to read this but seeing I read mostly on the bus I need to wait til I have time to read it at home. I can’t be on the bus sobbing!

  3. It is kind of suprising that a book about the Holocaust could be that shocking! I mean, we’ve all seen and read it all, right? So you have really intrigued me. I would consider my duaghter to be fairly mature, so I may have to suggest this one to her. We are reading the series about when the asteroid hits the moon and the end of the world begins. (On second thought, maybe we need to find something a little more up beat before we take on WWII!!)

    • I know, right? How could it shock me? But it did. The point of view is different than other books I’ve read on the subject.

      I LOVED Life As We Knew It! My daughter did, too!

  4. I was really shocked when I read the ending. I wasn’t sure I read it properly and had to reread it. Amazing book!! Truly, a must read.

  5. I’ve heard others talk about Bruno’s innocence, but for me, it really fit his age. I can’t image parents telling their child about something like that as they lived it. Great review.

    • I agree with you to a point.. but the kid had Nazis in and out of his house, all day, every day. You’d think he’d be asking more questions, but it was all very matter-of-fact. On the other hand, we have the benefit of hindsight. When the camps were liberated in real life, the people in the surrounding villages were stunned by what they saw and what they learned of the atrocities. It wasn’t common knowledge for adults at the time, let alone kids. Plus we live in an age of a constant and instant barrage of media images whenever things are happening in the world.. not so back then. So yeah, he was innocent and it makes sense. But while I was reading the book I thought, wow is this kid clueless.

  6. This is on my must read list and has been for a while. For some reason the stories that have been focusing on WWII have really appealed to me. Maybe it’s the fact that we are in a time of war but these two wars are very fresh and past wars, though the emotional wounds will always be fresh when you think about it, it is still in the past. I don’t know what I’m trying to say here but your review has pushed this book up higher on my must read list.
    I also like that reading this book with your daughter opened her eyes to the past and the history that our world is built on. I’m curious what exactly your daughter found shocking that you told her even though the whole damn war and what was happening in Europe is still shocking.

    • My daughter didn’t know about the gas chambers. She knew a lot of Jews had been killed during the war but I guess she thought in combat or something. She didn’t know they were herded into “showers” and gassed, unaware. She could not have been more shocked. She thought they had done something wrong and that’s why they were killed, even though she knew they’d been taken from their homes. She wanted to know what they did wrong. She thought the ‘camps’ were camps, as in camping. I’m not kidding, she knew very little and misunderstood a lot of what she’d learned in school. The book treated things somewhat mildly so she didn’t catch on much from the book (she’s 12 and thinks she knows everything but really didn’t understand and had to ask what happened). It was only after talking about it because the ending in the book isn’t completely spelled out.. you have to know something about the camps to get it.

      • Wow! I don’t remember learning about WWII until high school myself. I think it’s great that you two are participating in the Mother/Daughter Book Club and getting great discussions out of the books you read together. That is really very very cool. :)

      • Well, since I wanted a short read (250 pages is short now a days) The Boy In The Striped Pajamas has now moved so far up my must read list that I bought it and downloaded it onto my Kindle today and started reading it during Oprah. Thanks again for such an interesting review post Lisa!

  7. I have not read this book, but I’ve seen the movie, which I found very touching. Thank you for your well written review.

  8. There are also some very good documentaries about Auswitz on Google. I watched them after I read the book, and I think it might help to understand and appreciate the book even more. I’ve kept my copy to read with my girls.

    I enjoyed reading your review

  9. [...] it! thekoolaidmom on Book Review: The Boy in the St…Susan on Book Review: The Boy in the St…lisamm on Book Review: The Boy in the [...]

  10. I’m glad you enjoyed this book, but as a history teacher who teaches WWII and the Holocaust I have several problems with the book and the movie. Several of my students have seen the movie and are reading the book and I have to keep reminding them when they come to me with questions that even though the Holocaust was real the book they are reading is fiction. There are better books out there that are historically accurate that I would recommend. I do not recommend this book to my students because the story line is just not plausible.

    • Hi Jayme, thanks for the comment. I’ve heard that before, that there weren’t kids at Auschwitz, at least not for any length of time, that a kid inside couldn’t spend that amount of time at the fence day after day making friends with someone, that it’s not historically accurate. But I still think it has value because of the way it makes you feel and think about things. And it’s supposed to be a fable (the moral of the story is…), rather than historical fiction, which is different. The way I had to question why I cared more about this kid than the others while reading the book really made me consider my reasons for feeling that way. The point of view is much different than other books I’ve read on the topic. And it’s a great book for discussion.

      Anyway, thanks again for the comment. I’d still highly recommend it.

  11. A friend of mine recommended this one to me recently, and up to that point I hadn’t followed along with this title enough to know the premise. It sounds like something I’d like to try, and your bit about the ending leaves me curious.

    Looking forward to it!

  12. I’m glad you liked the book. I meant to see the movie when it came out, but haven’t yet gotten around to it.

    I thought this book was really powerful and worked really well as what it was intended to be, which, as you mentioned, is a fable.

  13. I want to read this book I’ve seen so many reviews and all tell how powerful of a book it is. Thanks for the review.

  14. What a great review and discussion. I read this book last year and haven’t written a review yet. I found Bruno’s innocence part of why he didn’t know what was going on. He was in his own world much of the time. I think that it’s important to remember that it is fiction and it stimulates discussion and awareness of the Holocaust for children. Just as it did with you and your daughter. It sounds like it’s the type of book that a child should read with a parent. My son saw the book in his class library, he’s in 5th grade and was considering reading it but I encouraged him to wait until he’s older. I have the movie waiting to be watched but I know what happens in the end and I have to be emotionally ready to watch it!

  15. I have been really curious about this book. Thanks for posting about it.

  16. I have the audio checked out of the library right now. My husband enjoyed it.

  17. I want to read this, but know it will be heartbreaking. I keep putting it off.

  18. I will definitely read this one after your great review. Sometimes these books can be quite shocking but it is important to read them nonetheless. I have added this book to my wishlist with a link back to your review.

  19. You totally piqued my interest in this book and I have added it to my wish list. I had been staying away from Holocaust literature for the past few months because it seems like I have read a lot of it, but this book seems like something worth breaking my fast for. Great review, and thanks!

  20. [...] the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne after reading Lisa’s review last week over at her blog, Books on the Brain.  I am glad I did.  This book is in the young adult book category.  It had been a long time [...]

  21. I haven’t yet read this book, but it’s been on my radar.

    My daughter just read it as part of her 8th grade curriculum. She was blown away by it, and wants me to hurry up and read it so we can talk about the book.

  22. The book is loaded with historical infomaties reguarding the Holocaust and Auschwitz death camp. Firstly there where no 9 year old kept at Auschwitz, because they where considered a pest and where no benfit to the Nazi bacause they where to young workshit fu

  23. i have read this book and a whole lot other holocaust book itis quite sad what happened i am only 16 and i knwo heaps about what happed in 1933

  24. I am 14 and had to read the book in class for an assighnment. As i reaad the book i gathered some information on what happened in WW2. Although i later discovered just how much more apauling and horrible it actually was, in the book not much details and gore is included so you cant quit learn what was really going on. I guess they couldnt make the movie really gruemsome although it kind of insults what the jews actually went throuugh. I only recently found out that they actually trained the nazi dogs to attck and rip the jews to death, and i mean thats not even the worst that happened.

  25. I really didnt like this book! I love learning aboout history and the holecost but it boerd mre to much!

    • i thought it was a good book, but the movie was much better! I think i may need to agree with you on the boardom aspect of it, :)

  26. I loved this book! I read it in one day and I agree, the ending was like a punch in the face. I’m not sure I didn’t see it coming, but it was still kind of shocking.

    I think that a lot of people were bothered by the lack of realism in the book, but it was clearly marketed as a fable, and I think Boyne used the liberties that come with writing a fable very well.

  27. wow

  28. I was just wondering about a few things about this book and the innocence of Bruno. I know that he says “Out-With” and “the fury”, but which word is it that Lieutenant kotler use when he shouts at Pavel and Shmuel. It’s a word that Bruno doesn’t understand, and doesn’t like. I also understand that the word could be to horrible to write in a book, thath children read, but does anyone have an idea to what word he is using?

    • I think the name, that Lieutenant Kotler uses is “Jew”. It was some kind of a swearword, back then….

      Fantastic book anyway. It really blowed my mind. Have read a lot of books, seen a lot of movies and made a lot of researh about the Holocaust… And now im about to write an assignment of 20 pages.. Really exciting… and horrible..

      I must tell… the last two weeks i’ve had nightmares every night.

  29. [...] reading our new novel, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.  (You can read a great review of the book here.)  Students will earn class participation points for following along as we read and immediately [...]

  30. I am 14 years old and I have read this book in English and I recommend this book to all teenagers and above

  31. I am 14 years old and I have read this book in English and I recommend this book to all teenagers and above.

  32. oops wrote it twice

  33. im 11 years old. i first read this book when i was 9. i understood it and was rather shocked and as you said, it was like a punch in the face. the book is one step ahead of you until its final killer pages. i like how john boyne did it so that you could understand what was going on and what was going to happen and bruno only being a self absorbed rather spoilt child did not. i began reading the book for my homework, in the morning, 5 hours later, i was still there, book in hand, transfixed. i was only meant to read the first few chapters. at that age i was quite a slow reader but quite mature for my age. i understood it , but after i finished it made me think. this book sums up the whole war and creates even more of an effect by writing it in the view of a 9 year old boy.

  34. Im reading the book, im 15 yrs old and now im near the end. I realy dont want to get to the end. For some reason i have a feeling i will cry. Im really sensitive for sad stories. Im gonna watch the movie once im finished with the but. Though i prefer the images that are in my head, hehehehe. But so far im at the part were bruno makes up a lie to cover the fact that he’s friend with shmuel. I realy like this book.

  35. im reading the book at the moment, i have seen the movie, and the only thing that makes me cry in movies, is when people cry in them,but this one. i dont know, it triggered something in me! great!, :)

  36. i liked the book and it brought me to tears at the end but we are reading it for class and are about to watch the movie if you do read it i recamend some tissues

  37. I am 13 years old i read this book in english just the other week and i absoloutly loved this book i completely understood it and i now know what it was kinda like to be a young nazi child back then not knowing what was going on

  38. i have read ‘The boy in striped pyjamas’ it was almost liike i was there experiencing the moment of hope, love, happiness and other emotions.
    it’s a very touching book and it could inspire a lot of people. :)

  39. [...] Reviews: Books on the Brain | Kirkus Reviews | Teen [...]

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