The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (David Fickling Books, 2006) is not a “fun” or amusing book, but it is just as highly improbable, and I think that is something every reader of it should realize: this is not a historically accurate book. The subtitle is “A Fable,” altho ugh more accurately it is an allegory. It is meant to represent larger issues, much as Barnaby Brockett’s story (reviewed here) does.
With those caveats, then, I will tell you a little bit about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. A young boy must move with his family to a new place, a place where there are no other children for him to play with. This sounds ordinary enough, right? It is not, for his new home is “Out-With” and the person who sent them to work there is “the Fury.” When Bruno befriends a boy on the other side of the fence (a Jewish child who is imprisoned and starving), his life is changed. He doesn’t realize that Shmuel is lacking the things he has. But he sees him as a friend.
It is highly unrealistic that a 9-year-old son of a Nazi leader would not be indoctrinated in Nazism and racial discrimination. Bruno is beyond naive, and his story is therefore completely improbable. But I felt that his ignorance doesn’t diminish the powerful effect his story has on the reader. Rather, it strengthens the message. Because the author does not frequently spell out the details of Nazism and the war, the setting seems much more timeless; Bruno could almost be any boy making a friend with a child that is otherwise shunned on the other side of any fence.
Because the book is about the Holocaust, albeit subtly, parents should read it before sharing it with children. Not all children would be ready for the suggested horrors.