Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

I remember this book being on every summer reading list from probably 5th through 10th grade, but I never read it in school. I found it recently in a used book store, and thought it was a modern classic I had missed.

Patty Bergen is 12, her family is the only Jewish one in their small Arkansas town near the Tennessee border, and they own the department store in town. In the summer, all Patty's friends have gone to a Christian summer camp and she's left alone to entertain herself. A whip-smart, inquisitive girl, she doesn't mesh with her stylish, elegant mother or her dictatorial father, who both adore her Shirley Temple-esque little sister. The big gossip of the summer is that nearby a POW camp has been built and recently a shipment of German POWs was shipped to town. When a group of them arrive in her father's store to purchase hats (they are passing out, working in the fields in the hot Southern summer sun), Patty speaks with the POW who is acting as interpreter, Anton, and finds him to be kind, intelligent, and appreciative of her. So a few weeks later, when she sees him escaping from the camp, she hides him in her family's garage. The repercussions that come from her violent father, and the close-minded town, are inevitable but still heartbreaking

Oh, how I hope Patty gets out of that town and away from her family! I wish she could live with her grandparents in Memphis, or even just be a few years older so that 18 isn't as far away! It's amazing she's doing as well as she is, given that neither of her parents show her the least bit of affection, her father beats her badly, regularly, and everything that makes Patty special - her curiosity, her openness, her love for people regardless of their race, nationality, or status - are the things her parents hate about her.

Some people criticize the book because at one point there is a very brief, chaste kiss between Patty (12) and Anton (22) but I think they are reading far too much into it. Anton isn't taking advantage of Patty and it was quite innocent. What I find shocking is that anyone - let alone a Jewish girl - can understand that even during WWII, not all Germans are Nazis, and therefore they're not all intrinsically evil. They're human and individual, and I think that lesson would have been a hard one for many Americans to accept (even now.)

I'm glad I read this book as an adult. I'm not sure that I would have appreciated it as a preteen. It is deceptively simple, but this kind of subtlety is often lost on children readers (even me!) Read in class with a teacher to guide discussions, I can see how it can work, but I think it would have been difficult for summer reading. A lot of it would have gone over my head. But it's a great book now

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book at a used bookstore.


Caroline Starr Rose said...

I LOVED this book as a girl. There's a sequel, too!

Anne@HeadFullofBooks said...

I read this book last summer and wept my way through it. Patty's family was so awful to her!

Julie P. said...

I read this one a few years ago for the Shelf Discovery Challenge. Loved it but I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as much as a kid.

Anonymous said...

I was 12 when I read this book and absolutely loved it. It's still in my top 5 favorite books. To this day it is the only book that can make me cry.