This review will contain some small spoilers!
I first read Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene when I was an awkward 12 year old in middle school. This book was required reading for our year and whilst a lot of other students groaned over required reading, I was always a bit enthusiastic about it. I found it interesting to read a book I wouldn't normally choose for myself.
And I remember absolutely adoring Summer of My German Soldier. I thought it was heart-breaking the way in which Patty is treated by her family. I could really relate to her feelings of disappointment and longing to be accepted by her overbearing father and by her overly critical mother. To always feel a little bit inadequate when compared to another perfect sibling. Things seemed pretty rough for poor Patty, who liked nothing more than making up wild stories and learning new words from the dictionary.
Patty is a 12 year old girl living in the South. Her only friends are the black housekeeper, Ruth and a poor, simple boy who lives in a shack down the road. The town she lives in has been chosen as the place to house a handful of German POWs from World War II, and while helping out at Patty's father's store, Patty meets one such German soldier, Anton. And Anton is nice to her when so few people are. He makes her laugh and is very polite and not at all what Patty expects from the POWs.
Shortly afterwards, Patty comes across Anton again. This time, he has escaped from the POW camp and is trying to make his way to safety. Patty sees Anton and makes a decision to help him. To hide him in the rooms above the garage that nobody uses and to give him clothes and food. They talk and become friends.
It's funny, I read this book as a child and remember thinking of it as this epic romance filled with angst and emotion. And reading it so many years later, I can approach this book from a much different perspective. I was surprised that there isn't really much romance at all here. I was slightly apprehensive reading this book again thinking that there might be with Patty being 12 and Anton being 22. But I didn't have anything to fear.
There is talk of love from Patty's point of view, but I don't think it's a romantic love at all. She talks of loving Anton because of his kindness towards her, because there's such a lack of it already in Patty's life. Anton tries to rescue Patty from her abusive father and nobody else has done that for her. Of course she feels things strongly.
My 12 year old brain latched onto this book's small element of love and barely noticed everything else. The ways in which different people are treated because of their class, gender or colour. The strong message of being OK with yourself and standing up for what you believe in. It was definitely interesting to read this book again after so long. I was very interested to hear of Bette Greene's books being republished as e-books in an attempt to gain new readers. I wonder how that will go. For me, it was very fun to revisit an old favourite!