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Summer of You Have to Read This Book

A review of Bette Greene's Summer of My German Soldier, a book Meghan was afraid to revisit 20 years later in case it had gotten old and fat, but was relieved to see was just as gorgeous as ever.

Summer of You Have to Read This Book

BOOK REPORT for Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

Cover Story: Nostalgia-riffic
BFF Charm: Auntie Mame
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Southern as Fried Chicken on Sundays
Bonus Factors: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenthood, WW2
Sixth-Grade Me Relationship Status: Obsession
20-year High School Reunion Relationship Status: Still Hot After All These Years

Note: Every now and then, we get the urge to revisit an old flame. It burns brightly in our memories as a pivotal book, something for which we racked up overdue library fines and stayed up late reading and rereading; after many years apart, we decide to revisit to see how the years have treated the story we treasure (spoiler alert: not always very well). Here we present our version of Facebook-stalking that high school crush with the old school book report.

Cover Story: Nostalgia-riffic

This cover is the exact one on the paperback I read to pieces in sixth grade, and the one on the library copy I got last week! I totally spent HOURS painstakingly copying the three faces on this cover for my book report poster, along with a gold signet ring. I was SO PROUD of that poster, y'all, so I totes love this cover.

The Deal:

Patty Bergen is in for a long, hot, dusty, lonely Arkansas summer. She's not lonely so much because she's Jewish, but because she's not all sweetness and light like her little sister, or boy crazy like the other girls her age. She's contrary, and tomboyish and just a bit weird. When a German POW from the new camp outside her small town escapes, and she makes the daring move to hide him, she risks what little she has in order to gain so much more.

BFF Charm: Auntie Mame

I'm taking a page from Jenny's book and calling myself Patty's Auntie Mame rather than her BFF. The girl has had it ROUGH, and except for Magical Negro Ruth, the housekeeper, she has no one to look out for her. Her grandparents are pretty awesome*, but not around enough to be truly kickass, and no one else cares what Patty does or thinks, except to criticize it. She's definitely a bit of a poor-me sadsack, but damn, the girl has a right to be.

*It seems like Katherine Stockett totally cribbed this book when she wrote The Help.**

**Please don't sue me for libel, Katherine Stockett. I'm not ACTUALLY accusing you of copycatting, just noting the similarities, which also crop up in Sue Monk Kidd's Secret Life of Bees and many other Southern-white-girl-black-maid/mother-figure novels.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Wait, before you wig out and start screaming about how Patty's only 12 and Anton is 22 and that's totally gross and icky and illegal, hear me out. I remember swooning my PANTS off when I read this at 11, so I was really wigged out as the scenes with Patty and Anton approached, but then I was SO RELIEVED. He loves her, sure, but not in a romantic way. I'm giving it a 4 anyway, partly because of my 11-year-old self and partly because Greene captures the longing of a schoolgirl crush on an older guy so perfectly, including Patty's total unawareness of the whole situation and Anton's feelings. She's so lonely and needy, and he's so sweet and definitely not predatory, and it just broke my heart.

Talky Talk:Southern as Fried Chicken on Sundays

And by that I mean it reads a bit like a mashup of Flannery O'Conner ('specially Member of the Wedding) and Harper Lee, and pretty accurately depicts dusty, slow, small-town Southern reality circa 1942, but it also is a bit of a cliche. I give it a pass for being 40 years old, with the overdone dialect and character tropes, and because it really is beautifully written in places.

In the center of the square, breakfast-room table a bunch of back-yard roses lounged in a flowered glass that had once held pimento cheese. Ruth carried in steaming plates of wienies and beans and some cut-up tomatoes, lettuce, and radishes from our Victory Garden. I found my appetite.

I just love that bit about the pimento cheese jar -- not a jam jar or even a pickle jar. Something about it being a pimento cheese jar really sets the scene, and the book is full of little details like that -- places where one word or image would work just fine, but Greene finds just the exact right one to make it perfect.

Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenthood

This should probably be an anti-bonus factor, because Patty's parents are THAT BAD, but here you go. Her mother's a total princess who can't imagine how she managed to give birth to a weird tomboy from her own body, and her dad's a total, raging asshole with a chip the size of Arkansas on his shoulder. Basically, they suck big ones, is what I'm saying.

Bonus Factor: WW2

Who doesn't love a book set in WW2? No one, that's who! This one's also one of my favorite subgenres, a Home Front book.

Casting Call:

Hailee Steinfeld as Patty

Queen Latifah as Ruth (just for the hell of it, really. Jennifer Hudson could do it to, in a few years).

Ben Barnes as Anton

Sixth-Grade Me Relationship Status: Obsession

Y'all, I really did read this book until the pages nearly fell out. I loved it so much! I also read the sequel, which I hated and won't be checking out again. I gossiped about it to my friends, did the T-R-U-E L-O-V-E numerology name game with its name and mine, put it in as all my MASH answers, and dedicated songs to it on the radio (Everything I Do, I Do it For You and I Will Always Love You, of course).

20-year High School Reunion Relationship Status: Still Hot After All These Years

Thank GOD this book lived up to my decades of dreams. I've recommended it to so many people over the years, I'd be totally embarrassed if it pulled a Billy Christianson and got fat and drunk and pervy. Sure, I read it with different eyes and saw different things this time around, but it was just as touching and magical as ever.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.