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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Classic? Maybe. Depressing? Undeniably.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Patty Bergen's twelfth summer is shaping up to be just as dull as every other one she's ever experienced. America may be in the midst of a world war, but that doesn't change the fact that nothing exciting ever happens in little Jenkinsville, Arkansas. Maybe if she were prettier, more ladylike, or just less her strange, awkward self, maybe then she would have sleepovers to look forward to or parties to attend. Maybe then her parents wouldn't act as if she were an ant bent on ruining their picnic. Maybe then she'd have a friend, someone to pal around with besides her colored maid or dim-witted Freddy Dowd. As it stands, she might as well sit and watch the temperature shoot from hot to Hades; there's certainly nothing else to do.
Then, a group of POWs arrive in town en route to a nearby prison facility. Patty's never seen a real, live German before. She's startled by how ordinary they seem. She's even more surprised when one of the prisoners speaks to her in English and seems to find her - plain old Patty Bergen - amusing. Can this nice, polite German really be one of the evil Nazis she's always hearing about? When she spies the same man trying to jump a train out of Arkansas, Patty's curiousity prompts her to do the unthinkable. Hiding Anton means risking the wrath of her parents, defying her patriotic community, and committing treason against the U.S. Still, Patty can't help herself. Not only is Anton kind, but he's the only one who pays any attention to her. He might even like her in the way she likes him, which means when he finally escapes, maybe he'll ask her to go with him. And she will, she'll do anything for him ...
As Patty compares what she's been told about the Germans with what she's learned on her own, she begins to realize a lot of other things - truths about her family, her community and herself. Before she's truly had time to digest it all, she's facing the biggest trouble she's ever been in. What will become of Patty's German soldier? What will become of Patty herself?
First published in 1973, Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene is a thoughtful story about an unlikely friendship forged between would-be enemies. It's a harsher tale than I expected, one that brings up the usual WWII themes - prejudice, injustice, courage, etc. - as well as more domestic cruelty without softening their pointed edges with platitudes or a conveniently cheesy end. Patty's one of those irrepressible narrators whose vulnerability and naivete make her instantly empathetic, especially in light of the slights she suffers on a daily basis. Still, hers is not a happy story or an easy one. In fact, it's downright depressing. Realistic, yes. Galvanizing, not exactly. And, darn it, I wanted galvanizing. The book's downer ending actually soured the whole story for me. Overall, the book's compelling, just not uniquely or jaw-droppingly so. And it's super depressing. A classic, sure, but not one that earned my undying love.
(Readalikes: Traitor by Gudrun Pausewang; also reminded me a little of Jericho Walls by Kristi Collier)
Grade: B-
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and depictions of domestic violence/physical violence toward a child
To the FTC, with love: Another library


  1. I had to read this for a literature class at BYU, and you are right. It was very depressing. Her parent's were downright hateful to her and the ending--awful.

    I'm too much of a romantic to go for a book like this. I don't mind a sad ending if it's inspiring, but this just felt oppressive and hopeless. If I were her I probably would have run or away from home.

  2. I had no idea this was such a depressing book. I still hope to read it.

    I'll link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  3. I've never read the book - though I did watch the movie with Kristy McNichol many, many, many years ago. Not sure it's something I'm interested in reading, to be honest. I'm too much of a fan of the HEA.

  4. I remember really liking this book as a kid. Cant remember the ending...maybe I should re-read it.

  5. I read this book in my 8th English class and remember being quite impressed. I must pick it up again and see if I still like it.


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