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 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.
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.