While the premise of this story has excellent potential for an educational yet emotional novel, John Boyne has weakened the actual facts of the Holocaust and made his characters dull and unrealistic.
For one, a nine-year-old like Shmuel would not have lasted a year in Auschwitz. He would have been taken straight to the gas chambers upon arrival. And I find it highly improbable that the son of a high-ranking Nazi general would not know what a death camp, Hitler, a Nazi, or a Jew was.
And the stupidity of the children in the story is almost unbearable. Bruno, in an attempt to be seen as "innocent", is oblivious and completely unaware of his surroundings to the point that I suspected he might have severe mental challenges, and Gretel is portrayed as far too immature for her age of 12-13.
The author has watered down the brutal facts of the camps to the point that it is impossible that the events in the book would have even happened, even if Shmuel has escaped death for a year or more at the camp. For there to be a completely unguarded section of the -- electric -- fence where Bruno and Shmuel could talk, for there to be a hole big enough for a fat nine-year-old to slip through unharmed but no Jews that had ever escaped, and for Bruno to see absolutely no death during the time he spoke with Shmuel is absolutely impossible.
Had the author perhaps reconstructed the premise, fixed the errors, and made characters of reasonable intelligence, this story may have been a tear-jerking, heartwrenching tale of the horrors of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, he didn't, and now we're left with an inaccurate and soft portrayal that almost leaves you thinking that the Holocaust might not have been all that bad.