Monday, October 4, 2010

Summer of My German Soldier

by Bette Greene
New York: Dial Press, 1974.

Patty Bergen is a twelve-year-old Jewish girl growing up in Jenkinsville, Arkansas during World War 2, the summer that German POWs are imprisoned right outside of town. She's a lonely girl who tries to be good so her parents will love her, but nothing she does seems to turn out right. Then, several POWs come to her father's store, and she begins a friendship with one of them, a young man named Anton Reiker who speaks English and isn't really a Nazi at all.

I'm not really sure what I expected when I picked this book up, but I found the story surprising in many ways. The book was originally published in 1973, and I couldn't help but compare the way race was dealt with in this story versus The Egypt Game, which was published in the 1960s. Patty's family is described as not having a lot of money, but Patty and her sister Sharon are looked after by a black woman, Rose, who lives in "Nigger Bottoms." I'm fairly sure that the use of the word "nigger" in this example and others was historically accurate, but I still found it jarring when I came across it. On the other hand, the people Patty loves most are Rose and Anton, a fact that's clearly not socially acceptable in the 1940s when the story is set. I was also surprised by the presence of child abuse, an issue I did not expect to see addressed in a children's book of its era. The age difference between Patty and Anton was a little shocking, and I dearly wanted an "Author's Note" at the end to explain whether or not some of the events could have (or did) happen, but no such luck. When I first started reading, I wasn't exactly taken by the story, but it grew on my as Patty herself, narrating the story started to grow on me too.

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