Yikes! I Think I Hated This: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Yikes! I Think I Hated This: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Friday, February 19, 2016

Yikes! I Think I Hated This: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas :: Outlandish Lit's Book Review

Ok, unpopular opinion time. I just read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne and it made me "yikes" innumerable times. A lot of people love this book. A LOT A LOT. So I am open to hearing what is so great about it, but let me just lay down all the yikes for you real quick.

So what is this book about? A little German boy during World War II. He is also the son of the dude who is newly in charge of Auschwitz! But this son of an SS officer seems to know nothing at all about Nazism or Hitler. Does he know the word Jew? Nope, never heard it. Has his schooling or family or nazi family friends/neighbors ever vaguely mentioned the inherit superiority of his race? Neeever, why would they do that? Oh wait, of course they would do that. Why does this not happen??

Bruno is not an infant. Bruno is nine years old. I may not like children, but I don't think children are stupid. Children are sponges. They pick up on stuff and they internalize it.

What might be more nonsense, or at least in the same nonsense vein, is all of the weird English puns that go on. Not like funny puns... let me try to explain. Little German Bruno hears Auschwitz and thinks people are saying "out-with." He asks "out with what?" Ummmm, this doesn't make sense seeing as you don't speak English? It also does not make sense that he thinks people are saying the Fury instead of the Fuhrer. Fuhrer means leader in German! YOU KNOW THIS WORD, TINY BRUNO. And Heil Hitler isn't a gibberish way to say goodbye! How has Hitler not been covered in school/everyday life?? I get that this is trying to present an innocent child's perspective, but it's not realistic in any way. Linguistically or historically. And I think it's offensive to assume that your young readers are not smart enough to understand this story without nonsense English puns.

I'm not going to spoil this book for you all. I wouldn't do that. But basically the family moves right next door to Auschwitz and little Bruno has no idea what's going on in the concentration camp. It doesn't seem so bad, because the boys over there get to have friends and he doesn't! But anyway, one day he sneaks off to wander around the fence of the concentration camp and there he meets a little boy. Because why would there be guards near the border of a concentration camp? I'll let the fence nonsense slide (there's more of it) because it's fiction, yeah yeah, I know.

But what is STILL nonsense is that the young boy is there at all. Shmuel is there for a year. Let me repeat: I understand that it's fiction. At the same time, there's a certain amount of pandering, emotional manipulation, and historical fact bending that is destructive. Especially when it is as widely read as this book. Any little boy taken to Auschwitz was marched right to the gas chamber when he got off the train. The very real atrocities of the holocaust are completely undermined. If he wasn't killed immediately, there's no way he wouldn't have been killed within a year. He wasn't useful in any way. He wouldn't have been worth keeping alive even for the sake of torture.

There was no subtlety in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I wouldn't have been surprised if Hitler had been flipping gas chamber switches and twirling his tiny mustache while laughing maniacally at the end. Don't even get me started on how not at all traumatized sweet Bruno is by watching at least two people get shot.

I can suspend my disbelief to a certain extent, but not when the end result is damaging. Or nonsense. There's only so much a girl can take!! And I love a good cry, but there's only so much blatant manipulation I can accept before I roll my eyes. I know this book moved a lot of people and I can see why, but how unrealistic it was just pushed me over the edge and it did not work for me at all.

What level of realism do you need from historical fiction? How much history-bending is too much? Am I asking too much from a book written for a younger audience? Let me know what you think!



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