“It’s truly extraordinary,” he said. “Who would believe it? ‘Jewish girl risks all for German solider.’ Tell me, Patty Bergen–” his voice became soft, but with a trace of hoarseness–“why are you doing this for me?”
I picked up Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene at the library book sale over a year ago, and finally got around to reading it this past week. I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly, but I’m glad I read this story about a Jewish girl in America during WWII and her decision to help a German POW escape.
What I Liked
– THIS BOOK. I liked this entire book from top to bottom. Honestly, I kind of loved everything about it.
– The characters. Patty and her housekeeper Ruth are the standouts here, but there’s also Charlene Madlee and her grandmother. And while Patty’s parents are villainous, they are both pretty fully drawn and not flat at all. Horrible, yes. Understandable…not exactly. But I understand their relationship to and with Patty and never felt like they were too anything, if that makes sense.
– Patty lives in an abusive household but the book isn’t really about that. It’s not a problem novel at all is what I mean. It’s part of the make up of her character, it’s part of the make up of her life, and it serves to explain, in part, her decision to help Anton (the POW). I was a little nervous at first about what message the book would send to kids who live in abusive homes because there’s a focus in the beginning on Patty showing her parents her sweetness so they can be sweet to her, but it’s really well addressed at the end that, really, there’s nothing she can do about her parents because they just suck. It’s done in such a great way, too.
– All of the relationships in this book were so well-handled and fully drawn.
– The overall themes about the importance of kindness and friendship and pride and love.
– Okay, everything. I just liked everything.
What I Didn’t Like
– Just a warning that there is a lot of casual racism in this book that totally fits the time period, but it took a minute for my 2010 mind to adjust. For example, Ruth is referred to as a Nigra, and the women in the novel see having “a Nigra” as a status symbol. The black people live in “Nigger Bottoms,” and a “chink” is run out of town. That said, the racism doesn’t go unchecked. Patty, early on, says that Ruth is not uppity, just proud. She knows that Mr. Lee’s family is Chinese and not Japanese, etc. I think Greene does a fantastic job of setting the scene without reveling in racist language.
Pride. Maybe that’s it, what Ruth has. What makes her different. Keeps her from looking down at her shoes when talking with white people. Then it is all a lie what they say about her. Ruth isn’t one bit uppity. Merely prideful.
I think this book definitely takes a thoughtful look at the place of women in society, from Ruth to Patty to the spoiled mother to Charlene. Not to mention, Patty’s decision to basically betray her country and family definitely qualifies her as girl/woman unbound.
In conclusion: This book started as a bathroom read for me, but I would find myself reading huge chunks of it at a time. By the end, I was so completely engrossed and swept up in the narrative. I LOVED READING THIS BOOK. I think this is my first unequivocal recommendation of the year. It’s a book I want other people to read or have read so I can talk about it with them.
YA Challenge: 4/75