(Audio version.) Through the eyes of an innocent nine-year-old boy named Bruno, listeners become complicit bystanders, observing some of the horrors of the Holocaust. Maloney's soft-toned narration and chipper, believably childlike characterization of Bruno dramatically bring home the fable-like qualities of Boyne's moving text. Bruno's limited comprehension of all going on around him begs listeners, presumably with more knowledge than the protagonist, to glean the fuller story between the lines. When his father, an officer for "the Fury," as Bruno refers to him, is transferred from Berlin to a new post in Poland called "Out-With," Bruno and his family try to adjust. From his new bedroom window Bruno can see a fenced-in camp where all the inhabitants wear striped pajamas. He learns more about this intriguing place when he befriends a boy inside the camp named Shmuel (who happens to share Bruno's birthday). Their friendship progresses dangerously and brings Boyne's tale to a shocking end that is sure to be a discussion starter. (Ages 12 and up).
Bruno's life changes drastically in 1942. After the "fury" comes to dinner, Bruno and his family move from their Berlin home to "Out with," where Bruno's father becomes the Commandant. Sheltered from the world through his family's wealth and privilege, Bruno has no understanding of the view from his new bedroom window, which looks at a huge fence topped with barbed wire, confining boys and men of all ages dressed in grey striped pajamas. One day on a walking exploration, Bruno meets Shmuel, who is sitting on the other side of the fence, and these two lonely boys start a friendship. Everyday for a year, they meet at the same spot along the fence, and somehow, Bruno still does not understand. Bruno's inability to comprehend the situation is the inadequacy of this book. Even though Bruno is very intelligent and inquisitive, he does not see that Shmuel is not having fun on the other side of the fence. If the reader can somehow excuse the boy's void of empathy, it is nearly impossible to believe that the Commandant father never tries to explain the people in the striped pajamas, never tells his truth. Would such a high Nazi official not start his son's indoctrination early? The other characters are finely drawn and add to the fullness of the book, but Bruno's voice, whispering and hesitant, keeps one reading and wondering about the German children in 1942 and their many stories. That speculation on the part of the reader alone makes the book very worthwhile.
The publisher doesn't want reviewers to reveal too much of the plot so readers can bring a fresh eye to the reading experience and its unfolding horrors. (However, the title should be a big clue.) That leaves little else to say except perhaps that this is the story of a sheltered, privileged nine-year-old boy gradually becoming aware of an overwhelming evil. It begins somewhat like a fairy tale, a dark one, with an otherworldly feel, a dystopia. Bruno comes home one day to find his large, beautiful home in an uproar. Mother is unhappy. Father is locked in his office. Servants scurry about. The mansion is to be abandoned for life in the hinterlands. The world is suddenly bleak but rules of good behavior must still be followed. Once relocated, Bruno is forbidden to explore, but does so anyway, as boys will, to his cost. Told entirely from the point of view of a nine-year-old (although the book jacket copy insists this is not a book for nine-year-olds), the author maintains the atmosphere of incomprehension turning to some kind of knowledge, even though Bruno holds on to a portion of innocence until the end. In spite of the book jacket's claim, the novel certainly is not for readers much beyond the age of fourteen. Discussions of the evil inherent in the story are far from graphic and readers would need a surrounding context to understand what Bruno never fully does. The novel is quite moving and is a good introduction to the subject for any young reader, told from a different point of view from that usually chosen. —Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students.
Myrna Marler - KLIATT
(Gr 9 & up.) John Boyne's novel is a harrowing Holocaust story with an excruciating ending. It is told through the eyes of nine-year-old Bruno, whose family moves from Berlin after his father gets a promotion to Commandant. When the family arrives at their new home, Bruno is disheartened. The new place, which the boy calls "Out-With," is desolate, with a large "camp" on the other side of a big fence, behind which all of the people, except the soldiers, wear gray-striped pajamas. After starting classes with a tutor, who advocates history over art, Bruno explores his new surroundings and meets Shmuel who is living in the fenced-in area. Bruno never quite grasps why his new friend is behind the fence, but he knows that he should keep quiet about their visits. Only mature listeners with knowledge of World War II and Hitler's "final solution" will be able to interpret what the author unveils slowly (there is no mention of a war going on or the ability to get news from the radio or newspapers). Still, the novel will certainly augment the study of this period in history. There is the added bonus of an interview with the author and his editor at the end of the recording. With the eager urgency and excitement of the young protagonist, Michael Maloney reads with a British accent, using various voices for the many characters. Sometimes he drops the ends of words, which can be distracting. Haunting music between chapters adds to the suspense. A unique addition to Holocaust literature. —Jo-Ann Carhart, East Islip Public Library, NY
After Hitler appoints Bruno's father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin. The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in "striped pajamas") or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp's fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno's family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp "Out-With" and the Fuhrer "Fury." As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno's consistent, guileless characterization, though it's difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story's point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naif. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyle's narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice. Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14.)
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