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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 na?f 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.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gr 9 Up-Boyne has written a sort of historical allegory-a spare, but vividly descriptive tale that clearly elucidates the atmosphere in Nazi Germany during the early 1940s that enabled the persecution of Eastern European Jews. Through the eyes of Bruno, a naive nine-year-old raised in a privileged household by strict parents whose expectations included good manners and unquestioning respect for parental authority, the author describes a visit from "the Fury" and the family's sudden move from Berlin to a place called "Out-With" in Poland. There, not 50 feet away, a high wire fence surrounds a huge dirt area of low huts and large square buildings. From his bedroom window, Bruno can see hundreds (maybe thousands) of people wearing striped pajamas and caps, and "something made him feel very cold and unsafe." Uncertain of what his father actually does for a living, the boy is eager to discover the secret of the people on the other side. He follows the fence into the distance, where he meets Shmuel, a skinny, sad-looking Jewish resident who, amazingly, has his same birth date. Bruno shares his thoughts and feelings with Shmuel, some of his food, and his final day at "Out-With," knowing instinctively that his father must never learn about this friendship. While only hinting at violence, blind hatred, and deplorable conditions, Boyne has included pointed examples of bullying and fearfulness. His combination of strong characterization and simple, honest narrative make this powerful and memorable tale a unique addition to Holocaust literature for those who already have some knowledge of Hitler's "Final Solution."-Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.