As a high-school English teacher, I am always on the look-out for stories that will simultaneously engage my students and also challenge them to think carefully about the world we live in. This novel does just that.
I teach low-ability 11 - 16 year olds, and every single one of them loved this story. The language is accessible and the plot moves quickly enough that even reluctant readers are engaged. The character of Bruno is naive but relatable, and many of graphic horrors of the era are left to the imagination, which means that I could pick and choose what details my students could handle being exposed to. Many of my students finished this book asking to read more about the Holocaust, because it whet their appetite for history and historical fiction. A great outcome, if you ask me!
The novel provides a helpful segue into many deeper philosophical and hypothetical discussions, such as whether someone can be simultaneously loving and evil (Bruno's father, the murderous Auschwitz Commandant), and what you would do if you were a German during WWII. I also LOVE the last sentence of the novel, where the author states (tongue in cheek) that all this happened many years ago and could obviously never happen again in our day and age. I spent many lessons debating this statement with my students, using it as a springboard into looking at the some of the current conflicts happening around the world.
With all of that said, I would not really recommend this novel to competent adult readers. There are many more satisfying and challenging Holocaust novels out there. The entire premise of the novel is very unlikely, and the characters are largely one-dimensional. Bruno's persistent naivety is also improbable and gets frustrating by the end of the story.