The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

Nine-year-old Bruno returns home one day to find his belongings being packed up, by one of his family servants. Bruno questions his mother, who reveals that the family will be moving from Berlin, as his father has received a promotion. Leaving his three best friends for life, grandparents and five-storey home behind, Bruno’s family move to their new house in Out-with.

When exploring his new forbidding house Bruno spots a tall fence, out of his bedroom window, with barbed wire wrapped around the top, running much further than he could see. As an inquisitive explorer, Bruno is eager to find out more about what is on the other side. Intrigued by the peculiar people behind the fence, who all wear the same striped pyjamas.

His father, a strict military commandant, dismisses Bruno’s questions about the fence and asserts that the fence is Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions, even though he spends a great deal of time with the other soldiers (who are often inside the house) on the other side of the fence. In particular, Bruno has a rooted dislike for one menacing soldier, who names Bruno ‘little man’, and is especially unkind to Pavel, the family’s cook. Much to Bruno’s puzzlement, the soldiers surround his father laughing at his jokes and hanging on to every word he says.

The novel is centred around Bruno’s innocence and naivety. It is only when Bruno comes across Shmuel, The Dot That Became a Speck That Became a Blob That Became a Figure That Became a Boy, sitting cross-legged on the other side of the fence in his striped pyjamas, that he could ultimately spend his afternoons discussing what life was like on the adjoining side of the fence.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas offers a distinctive perspective on Nazi Germany. The horrors of the holocaust are misinterpreted and conveyed through the voice of a sheltered child, who is unwittingly subsumed at the heart of the Nazis’ ultimate solution. It is a short and extraordinary story that brings history to light.

My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult

Kate Fitzgerald was diagnosed with acute leukemia at age four. Her sister, Anna, was genetically engineered to save Kate’s life. For the best part of her childhood, Anna donated cord blood, stem cells, lymphocytes, granulocytes and underwent a bone marrow transplant. It was when she was asked to donate a kidney, that could or could not protect Kate, that Anna decided to take matters into her own hands.

Respective chapters depict the thoughts and lives of each of the characters. The poignant narrative gives voice to the desperate parent, aberrant teenager and struggling patient. Throughout the novel empathies are diverged, Anna’s fierce loyalty to her sister set against her parents’ utter desperation. Simply, the dialogue and characters in My Sister’s Keeper portray real life, albeit an unfair representation. It transcends the reader into the precarious life of the Fitzgeralds.

This powerfully compassionate story encompasses major issues of morality and provokes inextricable debate of ethics. It highlights that the world is not black and white. Cancer, stem cell research, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and human rights are addressed head on. Whilst the central theme of this novel is devotedly sad, it is the touching moments and descriptions of siblinghood and family life that make it such a worthwhile read.