Summer of My German Soldier By Bette Greene: A Review
Summer of My German Soldier is a YA story about Patty Bergen, a Jewish girl growing up in the south during World War II. Patty, a strong willed girl was unfortunately born to a mother who seems neglectful, if not indifferent to her, and a father, who has a quick temper and abusive streak. This awful parenting combination leaves a hole in Patty’s heart which leaves her so vulnerable that she craves to love, or be loved by anyone. The only compassion she gets is from their cleaning lady Ruth, an African American woman who acts as a surrogate mother to her at times.
One day while working in her family’s store, she runs into a German POW named Anton, who seems to be on a field trip of some sort with the Sheriff and a few other inmates. Anton, an educated man who knows English, chats up Patty and buys a pin from her which, he’ll ultimately use to escape. One day while wondering by the railroad tracks, Patty encounters Anton trying to hop a train out of town. She inadvertently foils the plot and he winds up stuck in Memphis. Feeling guilty, she hides him in the garage just a few feet from her house!
Say what you will about the plot, I ended up loving this book. The author Bette Greene, was able to make her characters almost leap off the page. The only problem is, the entire scenario of a Jewish girl helping a Nazi prisoner. I’ll admit, it’s a tad out there, but if people can believe in teenage vampires attending high school then, this should be a breeze!
There is however a bit of realism in this book, as the author herself is Jewish and grew up in the south. This is why I believe she managed to capture the attitude of that particular generation perfectly. Her sprinkling of gentile southern colloquialisms and racial slurs bring the Jim Crow south to life. The reader has to watch not only the internal threat to Patty, but the external one as well, as Patty’s mere existence is an offense to this very white Bible toting society.
I won’t spoil it but the ending leaves me unfulfilled because it never really addresses Patty’s fate clearly. We’re left to wonder about a girl we’ve come to care about, but I guess that’s what serials are for. Hint, hint!
I give Summer of My German Soldier 5 stars ★★★★★