We Don’t Talk About Bruno – a review of The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

When people talk about WWII fiction, this book is often mentioned. Sometimes even studied. Can I just say, don’t? Your future is bleak if you read this book.

In the middle of World War II, Bruno is forced to move out of his city home due to a promotion and job opportunity his father got. His new home in the middle of the country takes him away from everything he ever knew and comes with many strange things that makes him uncomfortable. His twelve year old sister gets infatuated with one of his father’s pretentious co-workers, and many other men in uniform can’t seem to get away from him family home. Bruno learns that the servants in his house may be in trouble and he doesn’t understand why. But the thing that captures Bruno’s attention the most is a view from his window; children wearing what he thinks are striped pajamas all playing behind a fence.

Bruno was not an easy character to sympathise with. Boyne kept telling us we should, but up against the titular boy in striped pajamas and a whole lot more going on in the context of WWII it was crocodile tears. Especially when Bruno was so oblivious to what was going on! It would have been easier to resonate with Bruno if he was able to learn these things sooner and recognise what this meant. Kids are smart you know, but not in this story!

Repetition was a crutch for Boyne’s writing style, which did not help with making me like Bruno. It made some of the better uses of language look stale all too much. This is usually forgiven in a children’s book, but it was specifically stated in the blurb that it was not a children’s book. Adults don’t like this being talked down too and being constantly reminded of obvious details thing. I will not forgive Boyne for how dumb he treated me as a reader and Bruno as the lead.

I guess the plot was solid? You could see what the story could become, but for me it didn’t get there. The substance was there, the concept was there, but then the writing surrounding it and the style turned stew to vomit. Y’know, this kind of stuff enrages me. Missed potential angers me. Usually this means that I would end up wanting to find a better story. But I’ve already found that story. It is my favourites.

And I can confirm that this novel, in spite of what looked like a promising plot for most of this story, is my least favourite WWII historical fiction. It’ll be hard to beat.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas gets a score of 1.5/5. If I hear Bruno speak one more time… oh never mind he died. He can’t speak again.

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