Summer of My German Soldier
|Genre||Young adult fiction|
|Publisher||Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.|
|Pages||230 (sometimes 193 in paperback)|
|Followed by||'Morning Is a Long Time Coming'|
Summer of My German Soldier is a book by Bette Greene first published in 1973.
The story is told in first person narrative by a twelve-year-old Jewish girl named Patty Bergen living in Jenkinsville, Arkansas during World War II. The story focuses on the friendship between Patty and an escaped German POW named Anton. Patty first meets Anton when a group of German POWs visits her father's store. Anton teaches Patty that she is a person of value. In return, she protects Anton by hiding him above her father's garage.
The book was followed by a sequel, Morning Is a Long Time Coming.
- Patricia Anne Bergen: Patricia is a 12-year-old Jewish girl living in Jenkinsville, Arkansas near the end of World War II. Patty is very intelligent and intellectually curious, particularly about words. On the other hand, she can also be naive and unworldly. At the beginning of the novel, Patty has low self-esteem brought on by her mother's criticism of her appearance and her father's outright abuse. During the novel and as Patty becomes friends with Anton, she begins to gain the self-esteem and confidence she is lacking.
- Fredrick Anton Reiker: Anton, a German foot soldier comes from Northeastern Germany, but is half English (his mother is from Manchester). His English-educated father is a professor of history who gets into trouble for making fun of Hitler in lectures. Anton has no sympathy either with the Nazi party or its ideology. Later on in the novel, he teaches Patty that she is a person of value.
- Ruth Hughes: The Bergen's black maid who takes care of Patty and Patty's sister, Sharon. As one of the individuals who is closest to Patty, she is very loving and is extremely influential in Patty's life. She is the only individual who knows that Patty is hiding Anton in their garage, and keeps the secret well.
- Harry Bergen: Patty's abusive father who runs a local department store. He is known for flirting with other women in town and is very conscious of money. Harry seems to loathe his elder daughter and tends to favor his younger daughter, Sharon.
- Pearl Bergen: Pearl is Patty's mother. Pearl is a vain woman who negatively comments on Patty's looks and behavior, both directly to her daughter and to others. As the story is being told through Patty's eyes, she also tends to favor her younger daughter, Sharon.
- Sharon Bergen: Patty's younger sister. Sharon is favored by her parents and most people in Jenkinsville. Patty is jealous of the adoration and encouragement her sister receives from their parents, but is still very fond of her sister.
- Freddy Dowd: Patty's only school friend. Patty's father doesn't approve of their friendship, possibly because he is poor. Twice in the book, Harry Bergen beats Patty with his belt when he catches her with Freddy. Freddy is slow and naive, and does not understand Patty's reluctance to be friends with him, which she feels unable to explain truthfully.
- Edna Louise Jackson: A wealthy friend of Patty's. Along with most of the children Patty is friends with, Edna goes away to Baptist camp for most of the summer. Patty wants to be able to go, too, but her mother will not permit it because they are Jewish. It is revealed at one point that Edna's grandfather cheated Ruth's mother out of her life savings, an example of the themes of hypocrisy and injustice that the book addresses.
- Charlene Madlee: A reporter and friend of Patty's. They meet at Patty's father's store. Charlene inspires Patty to want to become a journalist and gives her hope for the future. Charlene also is the one who brings Patty news of her trial.
- Sister Parker: Works at the department store and was present when Anton first came in. She is also the worker Patty tells about the golden ring. She tends to have a love of gossip.
Early 1940s in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, at Patty's house and her grandparents' house.
The many themes explored in this novel include prejudice, self-esteem and family.
Prejudice exists in many forms, some of them ironic. While Anton, as a German soldier, might be assumed to be a Nazi sympathizer and therefore antisemitic, he is not pro-Nazi and develops a relationship with Patty, who is Jewish. He is, however, a German patriot and wants desperately to get back to Germany. On the other hand, the townspeople show prejudice towards the German soldiers, and many white families in town maintain black servants.
Another theme is that of self-esteem, especially in the face of abuse or personal difficulty. At the beginning of the book, Patty is abused by her father and is insulted by her mother. As she gets to know Anton and forms an attachment to him, her self-esteem grows and she learns that she has value as a person.
Family is another reoccurring theme in this novel, more prominently in negative ways towards the main character, Patty.
In 1978 the novel was turned into a made-for-television film of the same title, Summer of My German Soldier. It was fairly well received and won a Primetime Emmy Award and a Humanitas Prize. In the film, Anton was shot outside of Jenkinsville, not in New York City. Patty was played by Kristy McNichol and Anton was played by Bruce Davison.
Bette Greene is a well-established author who has won many awards for her novels. Summer of My German Soldier won ALA Notable Book along with The New York Times Book of the Year (1973) and National Book Award Finalist. Her work is described as “courageous and compelling” by Publishers Weekly. She is known for her ability to evoke deep emotion through her writing style. It is one of the most banned or challenged books of 2000-2009 according to the American Library Association, coming in at number 55. The mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, which details an alternate history wherein the Confederacy won the Civil War, refers to an in-universe novel called “Summer of My Union Soldier,” which is described as echoing romanticism in the literature dealing with the American North and South.