I spent last week on the beach and when I wasn’t swimming or building sandcastles, I was reading.

I must say the three books I choose to read were not your typical beach reads – two were on the powerful, but heavy side.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

In his author’s note, John Boyne said an image came to him of two boys sitting on either side of the fence. Both had been taken away from their friends and homes, but neither knew why.

The author himself knew why and the story of Bruno, a nine-year-old boy whose father’s boss – the Fury – forces him to leave his home and his best friends for a place called Out-With. When he arrives, Bruno notices a fence and beyond the fence everyone is wearing stripped pajamas.

One day, Bruno goes exploring until he finds a boy who is born on the same day as him sitting on the other side of the fence. Despite never playing together, Shmuel and Bruno become friends, talking about their lives before they both came to Out-With.

“If you start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy named Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine year olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter one.”

A week later, Bruno and Shmuel’s story has stayed with me, which was the goal of Boyne, who wrote: “But whatever reaction you have to this story, I hope that the voices of Bruno and Shmuel will continue to resonate with you as they have with me.

“Their lost voices must continue to be heard; their untold stories must continue to be recounted. For they represent the ones who didn’t live to tell their stories themselves.”

The Book Thief

I have been reading a number of bloggers of late who offer praise for Markus Zusak‘s The Book Thief. And with good reason.

The Book Thief was an amazing, powerful read and another one that has stuck with me. I liked that the book was told from the perspective of Death and how Death, despite being the collector of souls, was puzzled about the time during the Holocaust when our story is set.

The Book Thief is Liesel Meminger, who begins a life of stealing at her younger brother’s grave: the young girl picks up a copy of The Grave Digger’s Handbook. She goes on to steal a book from the Nazi book burning fire and the mayor’s wife.

“But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish man in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.”

There are so many intersecting stories in this book, so much emotion and heartbreak. So many awful things that happen, but also good. Much like Death, I am puzzled and haunted by humans.

Anna and the Apocalypse

Considered a “horror comedy,” Anna and the Apocalypse by Katharine Turner with Barry Waldo ($14.50, Raincoast Books, Fierce Reads) was a much lighter read than the other two, but I still wouldn’t consider it a beach read.

While I don’t expect a zombie apocalypse any time soon (of course, Anna refused to believe one was taking place in her boring neighbourhood either), I just found the whole thing rather awful. Not only did Anna and a few friends have to battle and kill former neighbours and teachers, they also had to kill friends and family.

Then there was also the whole vice-principal thing. I understand that not all people are good, but could someone like that still be employed looking after children if he constantly emotionally abused them? I found his character more unrealistic than a world full of zombies.

While there were funny moments in Anna and the Apocalypse, good characters and kind people, there were also a lot terrible moments, including the ending. I guess I don’t find zombie apocalypses funny, just horrible.

A copy of Anna and the Apocalypse was provided by Raincoast Books for an honest review. The opinion is my own.