What’s it all about?:
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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Welcome to the first banned book in our series for 2018! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:
Summer Of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
First published: 1973
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2001 (source)
Reasons: offensive language, racism, sexually explicit
Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?
BETH: Summer Of My German Soldier was first published in 1973, before I was born and it’s one of the older titles on the ALA’s top ten of banned/challenged books, challenged in 2001 which I still think of as fairly recent, I’m not sure about any of you? I was intrigued to read this book, especially when I found out that it was about a young girl and a German Nazi soldier and as with many of the books on our Banned Books list, I don’t agree with many of the reasons for challenging it. For example, I don’t remember any incidences of offensive language (perhaps I just glossed over them?) but I’m actually sitting here, racking my brain right now and I really don’t think there were any “bad words,” that shocked or offended me. Eye roll.
CHRISSI: I was really interested to see why Summer Of My German Soldier was challenged. As Beth mentioned, it is one of the older titles on the list. I didn’t find any of the language offensive in the slightest. There were some moments that were racist, but given its subject matter and the characters, it wasn’t really a surprise to me? I certainly don’t think it’s something that we should shy away from.
How about now?
BETH: As I mentioned, I still think of 2001 as being fairly recent (that probably shows my age!) but it was in fact seventeen years ago. I would have hoped attitudes have changed for the better in those years in that a lot of us are more tolerant and accepting and less racist but sadly, this is not true in all parts of the world or for all groups of people. In 2001, I would not have described this book as sexually explicit in the slightest and I certainly wouldn’t now. Excuse me while I rack my brain once again for even a slight mention of graphic sexual content because there wasn’t one! The only thing I am a little uneasy about in this novel is the racism, which I do agree is there and I don’t particularly like it or condone it. However, I think everyone should have access to all kinds of books, with some stipulations for younger or more sensitive children and in one way, it might educate people about how terrible people of another race were (and still) continue to be treated.
CHRISSI: I could kind of see why it would be banned or challenged but that’s not to say I agree with it. The racism did make for some uncomfortable reading. I know it’s not something that has been eradicated. Goodness knows we still have racism around in 2018, but it’s something that does make me uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s a book that should be banned though because it’s a good talking point and could potentially be educative. It just has to be used with sensitivity and with caution with impressionable readers.
What did you think of this book?:
BETH: This is such a difficult one. Parts of it I really enjoyed, I loved Patty’s relationship with the housekeeper, Ruth and conversely, absolutely hated her relationship with her parents which made me incredibly uncomfortable and uneasy at points. The thing I had most problems with in this novel however was Patty’s relationship with the German soldier, Anton. She is twelve at the time when she meets him and he is twenty-two. She falls in love with him quite quickly, which is fine and he never outwardly reciprocates her love but there is hints that he feels the same way and that just feels very, very wrong to me. This book is also quite bleak at points so don’t go into it expecting a great resolution and a happy fairy-tale ending.
CHRISSI: Unfortunately, it’s not a book that I enjoyed. I didn’t like the relationships in this novel and it made me feel rather uncomfortable over all. I wouldn’t describe it as a pleasant reading experience!
Would you recommend it?:
BETH: Not sure.
CHRISSI: It’s not for me- I didn’t enjoy reading this book and I think there are better ones out there with the same subject matter.