December 27, 2006

Not A Story for Children. Or Anyone.

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Synopsis: A 9-year old named Bruno is one day moved away from his home in the bustling city of Berlin, and his three very best friends to a nasty, cold, gray place with smokestacks, soldiers, and thin people in striped pajamas on the opposite side of a barbed wire fence. This novel is a regretable fable-esque tale of a friendship between a Berliner and a Jewish boy, with the requisite tragic ending.

Very rarely am I unable to finish a novel, but The Boy in the Striped Pajamas very nearly ruined my record. At first I had trouble seeing why this book with a nine-year-old protagonist was nominated as a young adult novel... and then about five pages in, I realized with great disgust why middle grade would not work. Or, perhaps, anyone...

May I just ask why "Out-With?!" In what world would a Berliner so misunderstand the name Auschwitz that it was suddenly rendered into English? The idea that what history provides as a clear and true account of an attempted genocide is titled as a fable is in stunningly bad taste. There are so many historical inaccuracies -- including the fact that Bruno, at age 9, would have had no questions on the identity of the so-called "Fury" who was at his dinner table, and the people in striped pajamas would never have been of any interest to him whatsoever. The child was nine, not three. It seems highly implausible that a young boy -- even a sheltered young boy -- would have failed to understand the world in which he lived, even a little bit. Hitler was like a god to the people who supported him. I can see young Bruno being quite firmly punished for being unable to recall or pronounce his name -- after all, fellow Germans were viewed with deep suspicion if they could not produce the proscribed "Heil" at the right time, with the correct amount of patriotic fervor. Bruno stole food for his friend Shmuel, but still expected to see the "town" where people wore pajamas to suddenly sprout cafés and shops. It seems less like this child is nine and more like he is four, and having a dream.

Unfortunately, none of the Holocaust was a dream... and while young adult literature does not always have to deal in reality, I'm not sure that the subject was well served by being so disingenuous.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the title of this post -- completely sums it up. What I don't understand is why this book has gotten so much hype and so many good reviews!

tanita s. davis said...

I believe that this author, like many others who write for adults and then switch to writing for kids, felt like he needed to be earnest and have some sort of moral, and have a Message, and he did all of this at the expense of telling a good story... and I'm totally going to suggest he go back to writing for adults so I can safely not read him. Ugh. Ugh, ugh, UGH!

One reason for the positive reviews, I think, is that the tone creates a sort of surreality that is like being inside of a giant fishbowl - sort of safely blurry with rounded walls - but eventually the fishbowl should have sort of made a little more sense and Bruno should have surfaced from ignorance. Hello, at some point? I mean, kids are not stupid. And that is the most egregious assumption the author appears to have made. Kids are stupid, so instead of telling the truth, he couches things in über cute lisping - which insults nine year olds everywhere - and then wraps it up by pointing at the foibles of adults.

Who's he writing for again?
And again: UGH.