Friday, January 11, 2013

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I have had this book for a while and naturally have been hesitant to read it because of the subject matter (usually I save such things for November).   But I moved this one up to the top of the pile when I heard that a friends ten-year-old had read it as part of his advanced English class.
If you had absolutely no idea what happened in the Holocaust, this would not be such an awful read as there would not be that underlying sense of terrible that flavours the entire novel for someone who knows what is going on.   It would mainly be about a nine-year-old boy who didn’t like his new home, was very unhappy about having to move away from his friends and family, who was very preoccupied with himself (as nine-year-olds would be).   It is (in my opinion) a pretty humdrum coming of age story about a little boy who makes a friend in his new home who manages to come to terms with disappointment and learns to think of others about him a little bit, it's heartwarming to see him really caring for someone else (but what that part at the end of the book was about I would have no way of understanding, even with a childish attempt to explain the strange). 

On the other hand, if you know exactly what was going on, it’s just awful.   You know that nothing good will come from this story, there‘s no happy ending here and never could be, and I have to wonder what the teacher in the advanced English class was thinking of, how did she prepare the kids before, during and after the book was read in class.  Either way it’s pretty bloody ghoulish and I personally do not see how you could present this to a child without hurting them.  
I have tried to imagine someone without prior knowledge reading this book, caring about  the characters, liking the precious friendship between two young boys and then finding out the truth, realising what it really meant,  and what really happened to them.  It hurts, no matter how the book is approached.

It is my feeling that even though a kid has the ability, the vocabulary and comprehension levels to read such a book, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should read such a book at such an age.  There has to be some wisdom and maturity to go along with this subject matter, otherwise it is just a waste of time, and an unnecessary emotional burden for one so young.
And let’s not forget the most important thing…  this is about one of the most despicable, horrific and unforgettable times in history and there are still survivors, friends and family of survivors out there who take exception to stories such as these.  This terrible, shameful past should never be considered as anything but truth, not fiction.

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