Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: Summer of My German Soldier

I’ll admit that I was totally wrong about what “Summer of My German Soldier,” by Bette Greene, was going to be about. Well, I mean, based on the title, I knew it was obviously going to be about summer and a German soldier. And the summary didn’t help clear up matters much. Here it is:
The summer that Patty Bergen turns twelve is a summer that will haunt her forever. When her small hometown in Arkansas becomes the site of a camp housing German prisoners during World War II, Patty learns what it means to open her heart. Even though she’s Jewish, she begins to see a prison escapee, Anton, not as a Nazi—but as a lonely, frightened young man with feelings not unlike her own, who understands and appreciates her in a way her parents never will. And Patty is willing to risk losing family, friends—even her freedom—for what has quickly become the most important part of her life.

So based on that summary, I was totally predicting this book was going to be soap-opera city. Girl falls madly in love with a German POW, but they can never be together because, hello, he’s a German POW. And to a certain extent, that is what the book was about. BUT it was also so much more. Way much more.

So first of all, since Patty is 12 and Anton (the POW) is 22, there isn’t any hard-core romance going on (thank goodness—that would be disturbing). This is Patty’s first love, and it’s innocent and pure and desire-free. And I’m pretty sure Anton just loves her as a sister. Hopefully. The book’s not really clear on Anton’s feelings, since it’s in first person from Patty’s perspective, but I’m guessing since Anton is such an awesome guy, he’s not going to be sketchily in love with a 12-year-old. And seriously, Anton is fantastic. He’s a German soldier who doesn’t want to be one because he’s a scholar—a med student actually. He’s polite and funny, and he sees Patty for the strong, beautiful girl she is.

But more important than Patty’s pseudo-romance with Anton, are her relationships with her family and with her housekeeper/nanny, Ruth. Her parents are not good people—her mother’s emotionally abusive, and her father is emotionally and physically abusive. And it’s hard to read about. Because the author doesn’t spare you the scenes where Patty’s dad beats her or where her mother needlessly criticizes her yet again. Patty’s only refuge is Ruth, and Ruth is even more fantastic than Anton. Because while Anton helps Patty feel better about herself for the few days he knows her, Ruth has spent years being everything to Patty—mother, friend, confidant, protector, advisor. Although Ruth is “just” the household help, she’s Patty’s real family. Ruth totally rocks, to put it mildly.

And Patty herself—there’s a girl who deserves more friends (and a better life, really) than she has. She’s curious and spunky and so, so resilient. She’s not perfect—she can lie like nobody’s business and is annoying at times—but, man, talk about a girl who can rise above her crappy circumstances. The book doesn’t have a tied-with-a-bow ending, but I’m okay with that, because hard books shouldn’t have easy endings anyway.

So, really, go read this book. It does take more than a bit of an emotional commitment, but it’s probably good to go through the emotional wringer once in a while.

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