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Summer of My German Soldier (1973)

by Bette Greene

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2,956474,476 (3.77)105
When German prisoners of war are brought to her Arkansas town during World War II, twelve-year-old Patty, a Jewish girl, befriends one of them and must deal with the consequences of that friendship.

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2023 - ‘70’s Immersion Reading Challenge

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green (1973; 1999 ed.) 230 pages.


SETTING: Early 1940’s during WWII, Jenkinsville, Arkansas

3.5 stars rounded up to 4 - I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with a title like this written for 5th graders. I assure you it is not anything what you would expect. There is no sex involved. But, I do feel like the author should have at least portrayed Patty Bergen, the 12-year-old Jewish girl who hid the 22-year-old German escapee, Anton Reiker, as 15 years old or older. The story could have been more credible because she did have romantic feelings for him and her actions, and the things she says in the story, were more fitting for, at least, a 15 year old.

I have no problem with the age discrepancy. My parents were 14 years apart. They married in 1962, Mom age 17 and Dad age 31. They had a wonderful marriage for 58 years until his death in 2021. My dad’s parents married in 1923. His mother was 16 and his father was 39. But, even after having four kids, he used to put her over his knees and give her spankings just like a child. Their marriage didn’t last. Family had to go get her and the four kids out from deep in the southern Louisiana swamp and bring them back to Texas when my Dad, the youngest, was only two years old.

This book was actually banned by the American Library Association’s “The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1900-1999”, not because of all the racial slurs depicted (nigger, chink, you people, etc.) and the name of the part of town where the blacks lived, Nigger Bottoms, nor because of her very abusive father, but because they felt that Anton’s death and Patty’s punishment in the end were considered “unsuited to the age group”, although all very realistic.

Anton had escaped the camp and went into hiding. Patty hid him and gave him food for just a few weeks during one summer. She fell in love, possibly because he treated her like a real human being, was kind and acted like a gentleman, and her father did nothing but cut her down and beat the crap out of her, literally. Anton realized the danger he was putting her in and left. She found out later he was shot and killed up in New York by the FBI because they believed him to be part of the Germans who entered the U.S. to sabotage a few key major businesses during the war, which he wasn’t. Patty ended up in a reform school (prison for teens) for 6 months.

A few things were based on the author's real life. Her parent's did own and operate a general store and they were the only Jewish family living in Parkin, Tennessee, where she grew up. Some place names and people's names have been changed. And there was a German POW camp nearby, but, she did not aid and abet any escaped German soldier.

Bette Jean Greene (Jun 28, 1934 - Oct 2, 2020)

Morning is a Long Time Coming (1978)

Summer of My German Soldier (1978), starring Kristy McNichol as a Jewish-American girl and Bruce Davison as a German prisoner of war. ( )
  MissysBookshelf | Aug 27, 2023 |
Reason read: JBC mod choice for August. TIOLI #5
I had not heard of this book. It is a YA novel published in 1973 and a historical novel about a Jewish girl growing up in a small town in Arkansas by abusive parents. She has no friends outside of the black housekeeper. She befriends an escaped German POW man.

At first the book felt too simplistic and I didn't know if I could like it. The characters are to some extent stereotypes. The themes are prejudice, self-esteem, and family. The prejudices are multiple; the poor, the black, the Germans, the Jews. The story is obviously autobiographical to some extent when you read the author background.

I thought this book was pretty tame in comparison to today's literature but one source stated that it is one of themost banned books of 2000 - 2009. I asked why. Apparently the death's of .... and the punishments of Patty were considered inappropriate for young people to read. It also was criticized as racial stereotyping. I felt that the death was necessary. You have to do something with your characters. The punishment was also appropriate as this was quite common even during the years of my youth and especially my parents youth. The racial stereotype was also fitting for the time. Blacks were unable to get jobs other than service work. White people took advantage of them. The often lived on the worst land thus the name "Nigger Bottoms". Also offensive language and sexual content. I do know that the father swore taking the name of God in vain and that must be the offensive language. It fit his character though. He obviously was not a practicing Jewish person. The sexual content was all very appropriate. There were no actual sexual acts outside of a kiss and the accusation of by the father which also fit his character.

This book one several awards; Golden Kite, NYT Outstanding Book, ALA Notable and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Rating 4.2 ( )
  Kristelh | Aug 22, 2023 |
Young adult coming of age story set during WWII. Twelve-year-old Patty Bergen lives in the small town of Jenkinsville, Arkansas, where a Prisoner of War camp has been built. She lives with her distant mother, physically abusive father, and younger sister. Her father runs the local General Store. German POWs are brought into the store one day to buy hats. One of the prisoners, Anton Reiker, speaks English and translates for the others. Patty assists him in obtaining merchandise. She finds him extremely polite and handsome and develops a crush on him. When Reiker escapes, Patty helps him hide from the authorities, leading to all sorts of trouble for both of them.

I had heard of this book for a long time but had somehow missed reading it. It was published in 1973. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Patty and her black maid, Ruth, the only person she could call a friend. This story provides a good example of prejudice in many forms, including anti-Semitism, the extreme anti-German sentiments of the time (everyone is assumed to be a Nazi regardless of their personal views), and racism. I think it is appropriate for age twelve and up (the child abuse is pretty severe). ( )
  Castlelass | Jan 5, 2023 |
Good story of a young Jewish girl who helped a German POW in America during WW II. I read it after seeing the TV movie in the late '70s I think. Makes you think about people and hatred for no good reasons except for a war. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
Loved this story. Read as a young girl and loved the movie starring Kristy McNicol. ( )
  Jen-Lynn | Aug 1, 2022 |
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When I saw the crowd gathering at the train station, I worried what President Roosevelt would think.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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When German prisoners of war are brought to her Arkansas town during World War II, twelve-year-old Patty, a Jewish girl, befriends one of them and must deal with the consequences of that friendship.

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Minutes before the train pulled into the station in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, Patty Bergen knew something exciting was going to happen. But she never could have imagined that her summer would be so memorable. German prisoners of war have arrived to make their new home in the prison camp in Jenkinsville. To the rest of her town, these prisoners are only Nazis. But to Patty, a young Jewish girl with a turbulent home life, one boy in particular becomes an unlikely friend. Anton relates to Patty in ways that her mother and father never can. But when their forbidden relationship is discovered, will Patty risk her family and town for the understanding and love of one boy?
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