Summer of My German Soldier

Since we’re still in the summer season, I wanted to write about a classic book set in this time of year, and Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier came to mind. I hesitated. The book is deep and offers tremendous lessons on life, but, it’s not one of my favorites. My feelings were so ambiguous I took time to look up what others had to say in Goodreads reviews.
If controversy makes for a good book, then Summer of My German Soldier is fantastic! It received several one-stars and several five-stars and all other stars in between. The one-stars mostly came from high school students forced to read it. The five stars came from librarians and those who obviously loved the philosophy and issues woven into the story. The in-betweens were thoughtful readers who had some cautionary advice to parents – and that’s exactly what had been bothering me.
red and yellow flags
Red Flag #1
The protagonist is a twelve-year-old girl, and her love interest is twenty-two. Many tween girls will identify with the crush she has on this older guy, and other than a gentle good-bye kiss, the man shows exemplary friendship and good character. Maybe that should only be a yellow flag.
Red Flag #2
I lived in Alabama in the 1960’s, and I’ve observed the prejudice. Summer of My German Soldier makes the deep South look even worse. The bigotry, the cliques, the stereotypes – they’re all in there. That said, Bette Greene has noted that the story is based on her own life. She’s lived it all, but I don’t know if she added extra drama. Yellow flag instead?
Red Flag #3
As a Christian, I had a difficult time with Patty’s worldview. A Jewish girl whose family didn’t really practice their faith, her moral outlook leaves much to be desired(even more so in the sequel, Morning Is a Long Time Coming). Patty has a kind heart. She understands right and wrong when it comes to cruelty of humans against humans, but she still ascribes to the idea of “If it’s right for me, then it’s right.”
The question arises: Is this book healthy for me or my child to read? Let me give you a quick synopsis, and you can decide if you want to read it, or have your child read it.
Summer of My German Soldier
Patty lives in Arkansas during World War II. She doesn’t have many friends; she’s the scapegoat child in her family. A prisoner-of-war camp is constructed near her town. Anton is a German POW, a gentle spirit, who never wanted to be a soldier for the Nazis. When he escapes, Patty chooses to hide him. Ruth, the family’s African American housekeeper, is the only person who loves Patty, and Ruth helps her keep the secret. A friendship develops between Patty and Anton. Of course, she can’t keep him hidden forever…
The themes of man’s inhumanity to man via anti-Semitism and the culture of the South make the book more than worthwhile. It can provide excellent discussions for homeschoolers and dinner conversations around the family table, but I wouldn’t want a child to read it without feedback from an adult with a Biblical worldview.
Have you felt this kind of doubt about other YA books? For me, it’s one of many.

 

 

Linda Samaritoni

Linda Samaritoni

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9 thoughts on “Summer of My German Soldier

  1. I haven’t read Summer of My German Soldier. It sounds interesting. A lot of YA books tend to be a blend of interesting points and nonChristian views. Graceling was one I enjoyed but the Feminist ideology gave me pause. I ended up liking the prequel, Fire, better. The Moorehawk trilogy is really good but it’s a bit violent, and has some fuzzy physical boundaries.

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  2. I can see you’re a strong reader of fantasy, an area where I am weak. Summer of My German Soldier gave excellent historical details regarding World War II. I do have to sigh at so many YA novels since it seems that we appreciate a good story, but… “there’s this one thing” (too violent, too vulgar, postmodern worldview… You get the idea.

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    • I like when books contain interesting historical elements and make the reader want to learn more. I remember reading Rilla of Ingleside and then checking out a pile of books on WWI so I could better understand what was going on.

      Frankly, it’s not just YA. That’s probably what’s drawn so many Christians to inspirational fiction. It may be tepid and preachy but they don’t have to worry about those other elements. I guess it boils down to a reader’s priorities.

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  3. I would say the controversies would be no more than yellow flags for me. My kids are a bit young but this is the type of book I would have liked and would want my kids to read. I’m fine with them reading outside of a Christian worldview.
    In books, the only red flags for me would be glorification of sex (or in the case of this story with 12 & 22 anything more than a chaste kiss), drinking, drugs, smoking, blasphemy/anti-God. For me language and violence are a matter of taste. As a kid, I couldn’t handle any type of violence. As an adult, my opinion varies. I read the Game of Thrones books which have lots of vulgarity, language, & violence but enjoy them because they fit the story. However, the solitary F-word in the beginning of The Night Circus was like someone drawing red crayon across an autographed first edition. It marred the remainder of the story which was a pretty clean and gentle read (PG-ish).

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    • That F-word was pretty jarring. But I’d actually forgotten all about it until you brought it up! I still can’t remember who said it. Whereas I dropped Game of Thrones halfway through the first book. The vulgarity, language and violence fit the story – I just decided it wasn’t the kind of story I wanted to invest my time in. It’s interesting what flags bother one person vs another. 🙂

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  4. I happened to read Summer of My German Soldier this month. I liked it, but I would discuss it with a 12-year-old reader because of the friendship with the young man. Too often, girls lacking in love from a father (and experiencing emotional and/or physical abuse) are drawn to an adult male figure for validation. I’d want my daughter to understand that.

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