Synopses & Reviews
"In 1942 Berlin, nine-year-old Bruno returns from school to discover that his father, a high-ranking military officer, has a new job. He announces that the family Bruno, mother and his older sister, Gretel is moving 'for the foreseeable future' to somewhere described only as 'far away.' Their journey unfolds through Bruno's eyes his poignant initial objection is that the new house is not nearly as nice as the one they vacated. Worse still, he misses his friends. Beyond the tall fence separating his yard from an adjacent compound of crude huts, however, Bruno sees potential playmates, all clad in gray-striped pajamas. Though the publisher has kept plot details under wraps (e.g., cover copy and promotional materials include no specifics), readers with even a rudimentary knowledge of 20th-century history will figure out, before Bruno does, where he lives and why the title boy he meets in secret at the fence each afternoon is pale, thin and sad. The protagonist's naf perspective is both a strength and weakness of this simple, thought-provoking story. What occurs next door is, in fact, unimaginable. But though Bruno aspires to be an explorer when he grows up, his passivity and failure to question or puzzle out what's going on in what he calls 'Out-With' diminishes him as a character. It strains credulity to believe that an officer's son would have absolute ignorance about the political realities of the day. But that is the point. How could the world outside the fence not have known, or have known and failed to act on, what was happening inside it? In the final pages, the tension rises precipitously and the harrowing ending, in which Bruno does finally act, is sure to take readers' breath away. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Powerful and unsettling. . . . As memorable an introduction to the subject as The Diary of Anne Frank. USA Today
Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences."
About the Author
John Boyne is a full-time writer living in Dublin. He was writer-in-residence at the University of East Anglia in Creative Writing and spent many years working as a bookseller. This is his first book for young readers. The author lives in Dublin, Ireland.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the relationship between Bruno and Gretel. Why does Bruno seem younger than nine? In a traditional fable, characters are usually one-sided. How might Bruno and Gretel be considered one-dimensional?
2. At age 12, Gretel is the proper age for membership in the League of Young Girls, a branch of Hitlers Youth Organization. Why do you think she is not a member, especially since her father is a high-ranking officer in Hitler's army?
3. What is it about the house at Out-With that makes Bruno feel “cold and unsafe”? How is this feeling perpetuated as he encounters people like Pavel, Maria, Lt. Kotler, and Shmuel?
4. Describe his reaction when he first sees the people in the striped pajamas. What does Gretel mean when she says, “Something about the way [Bruno] was watching made her feel suddenly nervous”? (p. 28) How does this statement foreshadow Brunos ultimate demise?
5. Bruno asks his father about the people outside their house at Auschwitz. His father answers, “Theyre not people at all Bruno.” (p. 53) Discuss the horror of this attitude. How does his fathers statement make Bruno more curious about Out-With?
6. Explain what Brunos mother means when she says, “We dont have the luxury of thinking.” (p. 13) Identify scenes from the novel that Brunos mother isnt happy about their life at Out-With. Debate whether she is unhappy being away from Berlin, or whether she is angry about her husbands position. How does Brunos grandmother react to her sons military role?
7. When Bruno and his family board the train for Auschwitz, he notices an over-crowded train headed in the same direction. How does he later make the connection between Shmuel and that train? How are both trains symbolic of each boys final journey?
8. Bruno issues a protest about leaving Berlin. His father responds, “Do you think that I would have made such a success of my life if I hadnt learned when to argue and when to keep my mouth shut and follow orders?” (p. 49) What question might Brunos father ask at the end of the novel?
9. A pun is most often seen as humorous. But, in this novel the narrator uses dark or solemn puns like Out-With and Fury to convey certain meanings. Bruno is simply mispronouncing the real words, but the author is clearly asking the reader to consider a double meaning to these words. Discuss the use of this wordplay as a literary device. What is the narrator trying to convey to the reader? How do these words further communicate the horror of the situation?
10. When Bruno dresses in the filthy striped pajamas, he remembers something his grandmother once said. “You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person youre pretending to be.” (p, 205) How is this true for Bruno? What about his father? What does this statement contribute to the overall meaning of the story?
11. Discuss the moral or message of the novel. What new insights and understandings does John Boyne want the reader to gain from reading this story?
12. Discuss the differences in a fable, an allegory, and a proverb. How might this story fit into each genre?