I think I could almost start a "World War II Wednesday" regular feature here. I cannot believe how many books there are based during WWII. I never had a particular fascination with WWII or cared to learn more about it other than what I was taught in school. But books on the subject keep popping up and sound good to me. A bit ago, I finished two juvenile fiction books set during WWII: Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff and The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. Both were interesting and worthwhile reads.
Lily’s Crossing: Lily finds herself with her grandmother at their oceanside summer home in 1944. She always looks forward to her summers in Rockaway, but this year is different. Her father was shipped overseas to help with the war effort and her best friend moved away so her father could help build planes in Michigan. Just when her summer looked like it was going to be the worst ever, Lily meets a Hungarian boy named Albert. They forge a friendship throughout the summer. This sweet book depicts wartime in America with rationing, a town’s reaction to their own missing in action, and just simply the unknown during war. The pace is a little slow, but that seems to reflect the pace of Lily’s summer days and also the patience for waiting for a loved one to return home from war. This is a middle-grade Newbery Honor Book and I think it definitely fits the age group well. You learn about the war, but it is a bit censored and appropriate for a younger age. I wonder if this book might be a bit boring for the younger set, but I liked it.
The Boy in Striped Pajamas: We meet nine-year-old Bruno, and his family who all of sudden must pack up their house in Berlin because his father has gotten a new assignment. They all move to an undesirable house at Out-With. From Bruno’s bedroom window he can see a fence with many people behind it. They are all wearing the same outfit: striped suits with matching caps. Bruno does not understand why his family has left Berlin and everything they know, but he knows his father is an “important man who works for the “Fury” and is going places.” The book goes on through Bruno’s days at Out-With and he can only accept so many “Don’t go anywhere near the fence” statements before he goes exploring. He follows the fence for quite a while, not seeing a soul, until he comes upon a little boy named Schmuel. The two form an unlikely friendship never playing and only talking to each other with the fence between them. This book is written from Bruno’s very ignorant and naïve point of view. He does not understand at all what is going on on the other side of the fence and in fact, never does quite figure it out, even at the end (which is incredible, but not all together shocking—I saw the end coming as soon as Bruno crossed the fence line). He spouts some of the rhetoric he hears coming from his house from the Nazi soldiers. And all he knows is that his father is a great man. The author purposefully omits the word Auschwitz in the book, instead sticking with Bruno’s mispronunciation of Out-With so that the book could really be about any war atrocity.
I actually think Boy in Striped Pajamas would make a good book club book just because there is much to discuss. Just from reviews I have read on amazon.com and other sites, this book sparks many lively discussions, for example here on LibraryThing. I keep going back and forth on my rating for this book. I give it four stars just for the thought-provoking ideas, but maybe only 3.0 for the execution. In the LibraryThing discussion, there was some negative reaction to this book as historical fiction. They felt that a nine-year old growing up in a household with visits from Hitler would probably know more about what was going on than Bruno. Also, that maybe some of the depictions of Auschwitz were not accurate. However, the cover of this book states that it’s a fable. I actually give it a bit more leeway knowing that (and hoping that came from the author and not the publisher) because then its not based so much in fact, but in what the moral of the story is.
Bruno’s naivety bugged me quite a bit. I think he actually acted more like a five or six year old. And I felt the first half of the book was a bit dull. Schmuel does not even appear until more than half way though the book. The second half does pick up and I think you just need to take the story with a grain of salt. It is what it is. And yes, even though maybe history did not happen just as Boyne has stated it, he paints an interesting picture of what happened during the Holocaust and may help bring it to a more real level, especially for a young adult who may not have the same amount of knowledge as adults reading the book.
I think the right age for this book would be around 13-14 years old. Any younger than that probably would not understand. I know I didn’t truly learn about WWII and details of it all until freshman year of high school or maybe Eighth grade when we read Anne Frank. This book is definitely not appropriate for younger than that based on subject matter.
Hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day Weekend and please take a moment to remember the soldiers who have fought and are fighting for our country and those who gave their lives. We came back from vacation on Saturday and encountered many, many military men and women in the airport. And in particular one army soldier getting on our plane saying good-bye to his wife and two young sons. Everyone was hugging and crying and you could see just how hard it was for him to stop hugging them and get on the plane. It was quite poignant. And a nice reminder of what this weekend is really about (besides the relaxing and grilling).