Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer Of My German Soldier

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Although I am told that this book is now considered a "classic" and is on many required-reading lists, I admit I had never paid any attention to it (just a vague memory of a TV-movie in the 70s) until my fourteen year old friend was given the assignment of reading it over summer vacation. Although this is a very bright kid, he was having trouble forcing himself to keep reading and he asked if I had ever read it. Since I hadn't, I downloaded it the next day from Kindle to see if I could help.

The experience of reading this book was one that reminds me again of how we should always reach outside of our comfort zones and our personal preferences to take chances. I tell myself that I enjoy reading "all" genres of literature. Good and bad, fluff and deep, from history to mystery. But if I'm honest with myself there is an entire world out there that I don't experience because it requires some effort. So it was with the Summer of My German Soldier.

Definitely not a book I would have expected to enjoy, I'm now very glad that I used the excuse of "doing it for someone else" to make the effort to go outside my comfort zone. I will say that although I was engrossed in the book from start to finish, I found the story disturbing on a lot of levels. The book is beautifully written with characters so vivid and well-drawn that you find yourself aching to feel their warmth as you hug them...or feel their nose crush against your fist.

If I were a teacher of early teens, this is definitely not a book I would have put on the required list. I think many nuances and lessons in this book are going to be a little dark and deep to expect a young adult to learn from, much less enjoy. If forcing kids to read this book was supposed to be an exercise in learning the history of the times, there are certainly many other books that would have done the job just as well and would have been easier for kids to relate to.

The idea of a twelve-year-old girl befriending and spending hours of alone-time with a 20-year-old man "because he made her feel pretty" has an undertone that I think could be disturbing to some early teen girls that are likely feeling the pressure of not measuring up in today's society that focuses so much on appearance.

I'm not sure if hard-copy books, especially earlier copies, include the information that this is not a work of fiction as it was first claimed, but instead is the memoir of the writer. Knowing that made me enjoy the book a little more.

If your teen has been given the project of reading the book, there is a study guide available on Kindle. Also, the book was made into a TV movie that is still available on VHS.

Amazon describes the book thusly:

In Bette Greene’s award–winning debut novel, a young Jewish girl in the postwar South finds herself drawn to a German prisoner of war
When the Army delivers a batch of Nazi prisoners of war to an internment camp in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, Patty Bergen is as anxious as any of her neighbors to get a glimpse of the monsters. The eldest child in the town’s sole Jewish family, Patty is lonely and isolated, spending most of her time in the company of Ruth, her parents’ black housekeeper.
Then she meets Anton Reiker, an inmate in the camp. Even though he fought against the Allies, Anton seems to understand Patty in a way even her parents never have. When Anton escapes from the camp, Patty risks everything to keep him safe—but following her heart may come at a terrible price.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Bette Greene including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
Although they say "postwar" the setting is during the war.

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