If you’re in the mood for a quick read that will leave you heartbroken and teary-eyed, then you might want to check out The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne. This 213-page work of historical fiction has dark themes and events for the majority of the story; however, it is told from an eight-year-old’s perspective, so the dark events are either not confronted directly, or misinterpreted. It is more the overall message and situation that is haunting. Due to this, as a ninth-grader, I would put The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (which stands alone as having no prequels or sequels relating to it) at a 9-12 grade reading level.
This book takes place in Germany during the time of World War II, and is told from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy, Bruno. Due to Bruno’s young age, he does not understand the majority of what is happening around him, including the violence and discrimination. One deduces that Bruno’s father is the Kommandant (German for "Commander") of the famous concentration camp, Auschwitz. Like I’ve said, Bruno does not understand this; however, anyone with a fair knowledge of the Second World War can easily deduce the situation. While living in the Kommandant’s quarters, Bruno decides to explore the long plain of grassy fields next to his house, which contains a gate that Bruno’s parents have told him specifically not to tread near. But one day, Bruno meets a boy about his age on the other side of the gate wearing what looks to Bruno like “striped pajamas,” earning the novel its name. Bruno does not understand that this is a Jewish prisoner, and neither of the boys really understand that they are supposed to be enemies; this book tells the story of the friendship that ensues.
Despite it being a work of fiction, this story is hauntingly realistic, and can really open up one’s eyes to what it must have been like for children in Germany during World War II. Bruno’s naive essence is something I think the child in all of us can relate to, and be empathetic towards. I would recommend this book to anyone who is emotionally strong enough to take a not-so-happy plotline with an even less happy ending. Despite the emotional scars it has given me, I would give The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a 5/5 rating.