Retro Friday: Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I picked up Summer of My German Soldier because I wanted to read its sequel, Morning is a Long Time Coming, which comes highly recommended by my book pusher friend Angie. Good thing I was able to find a bargain copy for just P29 (less than a dollar).

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Minutes before the train pulled into the station in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, Patty Bergen knew something exciting was going to happen. But she never could have imagined that her summer would be so memorable. German prisoners of war have arrived to make their new home in the prison camp in Jenkinsville. To the rest of her town, these prisoners are only Nazis. But to Patty, a young Jewish girl with a turbulent home life, one boy in particular becomes an unlikely friend. Anton relates to Patty in ways that her mother and father never can. But when their forbidden relationship is discovered, will Patty risk her family and town for the understanding and love of one boy?

I’m usually not a fan of novels set during wartime – I find them difficult to read because of all the hardships the characters have to endure. This is true in Patty’s case but not because of the war. Her mother and father are horrible parents and I don’t understand why they’re like that. It would’ve made more sense if they’re just bad people in general but they’re mean only to Patty – both of them treat Patty’s younger sister with affection. Her mother is mostly concerned with outside appearances and always criticizes Patty because she’s not pretty enough; while her father doesn’t like her inquisitive ways and believes that Patty should just blindly obey whatever he tells her to do. Her parents made me so mad that I wanted to hit them over the head with something hard. Aside from the family housekeeper Ruth, no one else values Patty and it’s a real shame. No wonder Patty turns to Anton, a German prisoner-of-war, for friendship. He recognizes her as the intelligent twelve-year-old that she is. Anton is several years older than Patty but he treats her like an equal. Patty doesn’t have any real friends either so it was a breath of fresh air for her to have someone like Anton in her life. I felt sad for Patty for most of the book but I’m happy that she found a good friend in Anton.

This book is a lightweight at just 199 pages but it took me a while to finish it because there were times when I had to pause and brace myself for some of the things that I knew will happen. So in a way, you can say that it wasn’t easy to read this book but it’s worth the effort because it’s a beautiful story about how friendships form in spite of nationalities, religious beliefs and pre-conceived notions. Who would’ve thought that a Jewish girl and a former Nazi soldier will hit it off. It’s amazing how so much was packed in such a slim novel – there’s so much depth in this one and I don’t think I’ll be able to justify all of it in a brief review. So many topics were tackled like racism, the complications of war and both physical and emotional abuse. It might sound a little bleak but I’m really glad I read this. Highly recommended for fans of middle grade or young adult historical fiction or wartime stories. If this sounds like something that you’d enjoy reading, please pick it up because I think Bette Greene is an amazing writer and I don’t see her getting featured that often. I can’t wait to read the sequel and I am hoping that things will be a lot better for Patty in that book. She truly deserves to be happy.

Other reviews:
The Children’s War
Bookfoolery and Babble
The Book Fetish

13 thoughts on “Retro Friday: Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

  1. Sounds light a heavy, short read. I can understand why you put it down a few times. If the sequel is once of Angie’s favorites I can’t wait to hear what you think of it.

    • It really is a sad novel. I’m trying to decide if I would’ve loved this if I read it as a pre-teen. I’ll try to read the sequel soon, maybe I can review it for next week’s Retro Friday.

  2. This book was a major part of my middle school experience. It was one of my favorite books and I read it several times. Strangely though, I’ve never read the sequel. I knew it existed, but just didn’t want to. I’m eager to see what you think.

  3. So happy to see this one reviewed for a Retro Friday post. It made a huge impression on me as a kid and, when I finally discovered the sequel, it became a permanent favorite. I hope you enjoy it. It’s beautiful, too.

    • It really doesn’t have a lot of reviews in the blogosphere. Thanks for recommending Bette Greene’s books! I think I read her Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe when I was younger and I remember liking it but had no idea that she had other books.

  4. How funny. We are always reading books at the same time it seems – I also picked up this one and MORNING due to Angie’s pushing. I ordered this one and the sequel a couple months ago and feel pretty much the same way as you. I too took a while to finish it because sometimes Patty’s experiences were just too much to bear. Her voice is so perfect. And yes, MORNING is just as good and even though it takes some doing, I loved how the story ended for Patty. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on that one too.

    • Michelle! I heard from Holly on Twitter that you just gave birth. Congratulations! 🙂 How are you feeling?

      It’s really funny how we read the same books at the same time, just goes to show we have excellent taste in books. I haven’t started on Morning yet because my copy of Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot arrived this week and I wanted to dive into that right away.

      • Thanks! I’m doing pretty good thanks – basically because we’ve had a lot of family in town to help out. If you want to see pics, you can check out my family blog:

        And I so can’t wait to hear about ALICE!

      • Oooh thanks for the link, your baby is adorable! I’m planning to post my review of Alice within the week. Can’t wait to read her other books. 🙂

  5. Pingback: In My Mailbox: May 16 « Chachic's Book Nook

    • I hope it’s still there! There were several copies in the used book stand in Trinoma. I actually gave my other copy to Celina since it’s just P29.

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