The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A brilliant book, and I can say absolutely nothing else.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: September 2008
Publisher: Definitions
ISBN: 978-1862305274

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

Bruno is just like so many nine year old boys, of fiction and the real world. He loves the large home he lives in – with the garret window and basement, and the continuous banister slide that almost links them both, he likes scoffing at his older sister's doll collection; he regrets being a little on the short and small side, and partly counters that by absorbing and using as many adult words and phrases as he can to appear mature.

However things are not perfect in his world when a change of location is forced on his family.

One day he was perfectly content, playing at home, sliding down banisters, trying to stand on his tiptoes to see right across ******, and now he was stuck here in this cold, nasty house with three whispering maids and a waiter who was both unhappy and angry, where no one looked as if they could ever be cheerful again. (My asterisks.)

The brilliance of the book is in the fact that this quote is a summary on page 15, by page 20 we can mostly all guess exactly what his new world is and what he is yet to learn about it, and we are still reading by page 215. The reason for this mostly is how compellingly we are entered into the world of Bruno – a world so familiar to us yet so alien, a world where we recognise things a lot more readily than Bruno, but are forever forced to read on by a plot that never lets us feel complacent.

And there I want to end this review, as odd as it sounds. I feel in cahoots with the blurb writers, who set great store on the covers by not wanting to write a blurb to the book and give anything away. And while I might protest too much about not revealing anything, and force the Sixth Sense Syndrome (where if, like me, you thought about the twist through the trailers and immediately upon the opening credits realised Bruce Willis is dead) there is a strong sense of letting the audience of this book, which deserves to be huge, find out for itself what it must.

And while the younger reader will find the book containing more mystery, even for the mature reader the plotting is just tone and note perfect in what it gives us. It seems a little silly to talk of a book that is read in under two hours as being perfectly sustained, but this one is. We have to wonder, certainly for the first few chapters, if the father figure is actually going to make an entrance, let alone the title character, who bears his naively inaccurate description with the utmost realism.

Having been so impressed only very recently by Mutiny on the Bounty I snapped this from my local library with more than the usual glee. I remain in awe of how Boyne writes so convincingly about young male boys – the narrative character of the former, and the equally brilliantly invented Bruno here. Neither book relies on that alone, of course, and this has a tight plot, a lot that is unspoken but so vividly clear, and is a superb way of depicting The Theme Of The Book I Must Not Talk About At All in a new light.

Personally, I would probably shoot the publishers of the adult edition of the book for their choice of cover, which gives too much away too easily. But I repeat, this book is so much more than just the crux upon which it all hangs. Never does it appear to being trying too hard to be clever – it is immensely clever, but need not ever try.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. I urge everyone to get it for their ten-and-older children, and read it for themselves, and then I wish them luck as they are forced to pass it on their friends, sans explanation.

And with the cinema version coming out in September 2008, I hope you're only encouraged by the deadline you have before all is revealed by people less discrete than me.

If you enjoyed The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, you'll also love I Am David by Anne Holm and Boyne's The Boy at the Top of the Mountain.

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Buy The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne at


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Magda said:

So you didn't find the character of the Bruno totally, beyond-even-the-fable in-credible, as quite few reviewers did?

John replied:

Not at all. Bruno comes across as completely realistic - from his whole innocent family life, to what he takes from the house with intent to donate, and in a typically 9-year old way never arrives with intact. Is it negative that he is not as worthy as other characters would be dressed? And I'd raise an eyebrow at the whole 'fable' banner were it not for the last couple of paragraphs.