Everyday Reading: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

February 13, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This post will be 100% spoilers because I hated the ending of the book and thus I need to rant lengthily about it. Consider yourself warned.

First off, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is obviously trying really hard to keep it from you what the topic is (which I'm completely ruining by telling you, and I knew the general topic before I picked it up thanks to some reviews, so whatever). On the back it says some things about how it's hard to write a blurb without giving too much away, so just accept that it's about a little boy, Bruno, who finds a fence.

That's nice and all, but if you haven't figured out it is a Holocaust book in about two chapters, you probably aren't that bright. I mean, he lives in Berlin. It's 1943. They are going to live outside of "Out-With" after "the Fury" comes to dinner. And then at "Out-With" there is a huge farm with people wearing striped pajamas working on it. Except there doesn't appear to be actual farming going on.

After that introduction you get chapters and chapters of him being like "I just can't figure out why there are people in pajamas out there. Also, it's so mean that I can't go back to Berlin."

A few months go by, and Bruno goes exploring. A few miles from the house, he discovers a little boy in pajamas sitting on the other side of the fence and they become friends. Bruno comes to visit him almost every day, sometimes bringing him food, but generally eating it on the walk out there, because, you know, he's super hungry. Also, why is the little boy on the other side of the fence getting skinnier and skinnier?

And the little boy tells Bruno some really sad stories about how mean the soldiers are and how his father was in the camp but then suddenly disappeared and how he used to live in Poland but then they had to come here on a really packed train. And Bruno is all "That's nice. Now I need to go back to my hard life where my stupid sister sometimes teases me. So you can see why I can't be all that sympathetic about your hard life, right? Bye!"

Eventually, Bruno's mom grows tired of living out in the middle of nowhere and, despite her husband's arguments, arranges to return, with Bruno and his sister, to Berlin. The day before they go, Bruno goes to visit his friend behind the fence for the last time, and the little boy steals an extra pair of "pajamas" for Bruno to wear. Under the fence Bruno goes and they go exploring the camp, until suddenly soldiers show up and start barking for everyone to line up. And then they all get gassed. And no one ever knows what happens to Bruno.

Yes, seriously. That's the book.

I just couldn't deal with how DUMB Bruno is. He seems just intentionally dense, completely misunderstanding everything, no matter how many times they are explained to him.

Also, there are other things going on in the background of the story that were kind of miscellaneous. For instance, I'm pretty sure Bruno's mother was having an affair with the seventeen-year-old soldier who was stationed at Auschwitz. But, since you only see it through Bruno's (not very bright) eyes, there is no way to know for sure.

The thing is, there are so many moving, excellently-written Holocaust books (massive plug for The Book Thief here), while this one just annoyed me to no end. When the last track finished, I think I actually rolled my eyes.

It's hard to write negatively about a Holocaust book without seeming like a completely heartless jerk (and maybe I am), but I don't feel like that's why I didn't like the book. I just didn't like it because I felt like it wasn't very well-done, and I felt totally manipulated as a reader. And now I feel like I have to defend myself and say things like, "I really do believe the Holocaust happened! I swear!" and "I think what Hitler did was unconscionable! Promise!"

And really, that irritates me even more. Because all I want to do is point a finger at this book and say "You just aren't very good. And I won't recommend you."

17 comments:

  1. I totally get that distinction and this book sounds terrible. Will not be reading.

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  2. Janssen,
    Just want you to know I've enjoyed your last couple of posts--fun to read your adventurous one, and Valentines one. We like you guys!

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  3. That does not sound one bit good to me...aren't they making a movie? Have you heard any reviews about that? Maybe it's not far enough along...

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  4. I'm so glad that someone else didn't love this book. It seemed like ALL the reviews were SO positive, and I was just frustrated with the whole thing. I found it hard to even find sympathy for Bruno because he was just too dense. The Book Thief is definitely a better choice.

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  5. Oh no!! I LOVED this book!!! Yes, three explanation points. I did mention in my review that I didn't think Bruno was the right age in the book. He was much to ignorant. But it is a fable. The movie is AMAZING. Both my husband and I loved it. They lowered his age in the movie. And yes, you're still like, "I can't believe this kid doesn't know what's going on!" But he's a kid. A very sheltered kid. Sorry you didn't like it. :(

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  6. I've read the first couple of chapters and it really hasn't convinced me to continue reading. Like you, I feel like I HAVE to like Holocaust books or I'm a bad person (It HAPPENED. I BELIEVE!) I think you just gave me permission to move on though. This is not the only Holocaust book on my TBR, I'll make up for it later.

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  7. From your description is definitely does not sound like a good book. Good unhappy endings (is that an oxymoron?) usually have some moral message to them or at least a sense of beautiful tragedy, but from what you'd described Bruno just seems really dumb. It would be hard to sympathize with him.

    PS: I read about a third of the post amazed that you continued to spell "striped" wrong. And then I realized that it was I who was mistaken. And yes, I knew the whole time that the word was striped, I just momentarily thought that striped should have two "p"s.

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  8. So, the next question is, will you and Bart go see the movie?

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  9. Hmmm, I'm intrigued and I think I want to read this book, despite your review and spoilers. I find this to be a really interesting subject and I've read a great deal about the Holocaust, as well as have taken several classes and I've also been to Auschwitz about a dozen times. I've read many memoirs and first-hand experiences and it is always intriguing to see how it is portrayed...

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  10. Normally I won't read spoilers. I was compelled to tonight, and this book just sounds TERRIBLE. Thanks for the PSA :)

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  11. Doesn't sound good to me either. You really should be a reviewer for a major newspaper or something because I base a lot of my book choices on ones you've given good reviews. As a side note, and possibly a way to tell if you actually read all of your comments, have you read any Clive Cussler books? Would you recommend any specific ones? Our book club for next month is an author spotlight and we can choose any of his books to read, of which there are many.

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  12. To Mary - My husband (and several other family members) read Clive Cussler. Hubby says he has liked all of Cussler's books. He recently read "Plague Ship" from the Oregon Files series. Said this series may be more exciting than the Dirk Pitt series. Hubby said he couldn't put Plague Ship down. Good action. (Guess I'd better start reading them, too. :) )

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  13. Mary - I do read all the comments and I love each one like a child :)

    I haven't read any Clive Cussler books, but my mom has read a bunch of them and really enjoyed most of them I think. Sorry that's so unhelpful!

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  14. I actually loved this book. I didn't think Bruno was dumb at all, just a little naive and in his own world. After all, we all know about the Holocaust, so whenever we hear striped pyjamas we automatically think concentration camps. They didn't, seeing as it was going on at the time and not part of the history books yet, not a lesson everyone had to learn in school..but it probably would have been better if he had been younger. I'm glad they lowered his age in the movie.

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  15. Sad day! I was so looking forward to reading it. I still will, because I'll want to see how bad it is for myself (I'm kind of silly like that :P), but it is all very disappointing. The Book Thief has been on my list for a long time too, though, so I still have that to look forward to. Have you read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry? It's been my favorite Holocaust book since I was a kid.

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  16. Oh no! I was going to pick this one up at Powell's next weekend!! I have been drooling over it. The sad part is I don't want to read the post you wrote because what if I do decide to read it, I don't like my endings ruined. But then if I don't I take the risk of investing my money and time in something with a bad ending. Huh, I guess I will have to think twice about it now. Thanks for the warning!!

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