cover image All the Broken Places

All the Broken Places

John Boyne. Viking/Dorman, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-593-65306-7

Boyne delivers a seemingly redundant adult sequel to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, his 2006 YA novel. In the present, 91-year-old widow Gretel Fernsby lives comfortably in her London flat. She then meets new neighbors Alex Darcy-Witt, a movie producer; his emotionally fragile wife, Madelyn; and their nine-year-old son, Henry, who reminds Gretel of her brother who died at the same age 80 years ago. After Gretel senses Madelyn and Henry are being physically abused by Alex, she’s reminded of the evil she faced as a preteen girl when her father was commandant of Auschwitz. Gretel has spent the years since living under a shadow of complicity, which Boyne unfurls in flashbacks. As a young woman in Paris, Gretel is called the “devil’s daughter” and imagines she’ll be executed; and in Sydney, she coincidentally runs into the guard she’d had a crush on back at Auschwitz. As Gretel looks back on her past, she must decide what to do with the threat posed by the icily manipulative Alex, who offers a benign explanation for his violent episodes. Boyne creates vivid characters, but a certain thematic obviousness dilutes the dramatic effect. Fans of the first book may enjoy revisiting the material as adults, but this doesn’t quite land on its own. (Nov.)