Summary and book reviews of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

A Fable

By John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2006,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2007,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

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 from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see 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 to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Chapter One
Bruno Makes a Discovery

One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family’s maid — who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet — standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he’d hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else’s business.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked in as polite a tone as he could muster, for although he wasn’t happy to come home and find someone going through his possessions, his mother had always told him that he was to treat Maria respectfully and not just imitate the way Father spoke to her. ‘You take your hands off my things.’

Maria shook her head and pointed towards the staircase behind him, where Bruno’s mother had just appeared. She was a tall woman with long red hair that she bundled into a sort of net behind her...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the relationship between Bruno and Gretel. Why does Bruno seem younger than nine? In a traditional fable, characters are usually one-sided. How might Bruno and Gretel be considered one-dimensional?

  2. At age 12, Gretel is the proper age for membership in the League of Young Girls, a branch of Hitler’s Youth Organization. Why do you think she is not a member, especially since her father is a high-ranking officer in Hitler's army?

  3. What is it about the house at Out-With that makes Bruno feel “cold and unsafe”? How is this feeling perpetuated as he encounters people like Pavel, Maria, Lt. Kotler, and Shmuel?

  4. Describe his reaction when he first sees the people in the striped pajamas. What does Gretel mean when she ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Review contains plot spoilers:

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is presented as a fable, flagging to the reader up front that one is expected to disengage ones normal sense of reality and accept the story as given, but in this instance, when dealing with such an emotive, well recorded and historically recent subject as the Holocaust, this is difficult to do. Everything hinges on the reader accepting Bruno's overwhelming naivety at face value. Is it really credible that nine-year-old Bruno, who lives and goes to school in Berlin and is the son of a senior SS officer, is oblivious to the war, and doesn't know who Hitler is, or what a Jew is - but in other respects is both observant and intelligent?

When his family arrive at Aushwitz, Bruno and his 12-year-old-sister are conveniently the only children in the vicinity, other than those on the other side of the fence. This again stretches credibility because historical records show that about 6,000 SS officers were posted at Auschwitz, so it seems extremely unlikely that other children would not have been around. Then there is the issue of how Bruno could possibly have talked with his friend on the other side of the fence for months without being seen, or ever comprehending that Shmuel is starving (he absentmindedly brings him food from time to time but usually ends up eating most of it on the way). Not to mention the inconvenient detail that by 1942 most young children arriving at the camps were gassed on arrival.

On the other hand, Boyne hits a few powerful notes - such as Bruno's father's response to his question about the people inside the fence - "they're not people at all Bruno"; and his mother's comment that "we don't have the luxury of thinking".

As a fable, this is a powerful tale, and if you can read it as such all well and good (I can't); but as a vehicle for explaining the defining tragedy of the 20th century to young people it falls embarrassingly short.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Booklist

Gr 7-10: The story builds to a horrifying climax, the innocent's experience brings home the unimaginable horror.

Publishers Weekly

Maloney's soft-toned narration and chipper, believably childlike characterization of Bruno dramatically bring home the fable-like qualities of Boyne's moving text. Ages 12-up

Kirkus Reviews

Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. Ages 12-14.

School Library Journal - Susan Scheps

Starred Review. While only hinting at violence, blind hatred, and deplorable conditions, Boyne has included pointed examples of bullying and fearfulness. His combination of strong characterization and simple, honest narrative make this powerful and memorable tale a unique addition to Holocaust literature for those who already have some knowledge of Hitlers Final Solution. Ages 12+.

The Observer (UK)

Certain to be one of the publishing sensations of 2006.

The Oxford Times

A memorable and moving story.

The Guardian (UK)

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a small wonder of a book. Bruno's education is conducted slowly, through a series of fleeting social encounters rather than by plunging him into a nightmare landscape. A scraped knee, an attack of nits, a slammed door - these are the moments through which he is led to a deeper knowledge of the world beyond the wire fence.

The Age - Ed Wright

After some initial tonal clunkiness where you can almost detect the author thinking "how do I write a child", the story is an effortless read that puts you directly into Bruno's worldview. It is elegant story-telling with emotional impact and an ending that in true fairytale style is grotesquely clever.

The Irish Independent

A book so simple, so seemingly effortless, that it's almost perfect.

Reader Reviews
Caitlin

Tear Jerking and Heart Throbbing
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a lovely book that gave me made me feel so many emotions at once. I loved this book because it explained everything exactly how a 9 year old would see it.

shayna

The boy in the striped pajamas
This book was amazing I think that I would recommend this book to a person who likes to hear people's survival stories. I would say you would want to be a little older like 13 to understand this book. Sometimes there's some words and things that I ...   Read More

SashaLouLou

The Boy In The striped Pyjamas
Well, the movie is just as good as the book, but the book puts it in sections and helps build more tension because if your like me I don't read a book in one night it will be finished with in about 2 weeks. So by reading the book it makes you want ...   Read More

rebecca

Amazing
The book was great, and it was very touching. The book taught me to never hate someone that is different than you, you should always try to be friends.

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Beyond the Book

A Brief History of Auschwitz

Auschwitz was the name the Germans used for the Polish city of Oswiecim when they occupied it in WWII. The concentration camp was established nearby in June 1940, taking the name of the nearby town. The camp quickly expanded into three main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz - a group of about 40 sub-camps. In 1942, when the mass exterminations began, the camps (the largest complex of extermination camps in the Reich) became the site of the greatest mass murder in the history ...

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