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