Sunday, September 26, 2010

And This Book Has Been Challenged/Banned Why?

Book 50: Summer of My German Soldier
Bette Greene

Summer of My German Soldier was on the summer reading list before the start of my sophomore year Honors English class.  Of the four books assigned for summer reading that year, I recall finishing only this one. I loved it.  So when I saw it on the frequently banned and challenged list of books from the American Library Association (ALA), I decided to make it this year's Banned Books Week reading selection.

I wonder if Bette Greene knew, when Summer was published in 1973, that it would still be relevant in 2010? Summer of My German Soldier tells the story of Patty Bergen, a young Jewish girl growing up in rural Arkansas in World War II.  Often the subject of her mother's criticism and her father's violent temper, Patty's only real friend is Ruth, the family's housekeeper. That all changes the summer Patty is twelve, and German POW's are relocated to Patty's hometown. 

Patty befriends on soldier, Anton, and when he escapes, she helps hide him.  This was the gist of what I remembered about the story, all these years later.  And as I started reading the book, I kept thinking to myself 'Why on earth was this book challenged?'  I assumed it was because of the racial slurs, but when I looked it up at the ALA website, that wasn't it.  WARNING:SPOILER ALERT. I'M GIVING AWAY THE ENDING. I'll encapsulate the spoiler by  (* * *) and when it is over, repeat that as well. Scroll past this if you don't want to be spoiled.

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The book has been challenged because Anton dies in the end (off screen, so to speak. Patty hears about it after the fact and there is no description of what happens) and then Patty is sent to reform school for helping an escaped Federal prisoner. 

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The challenge against the book is the age appropriateness of the ending.  I don't get it.  I was much more traumatized by Old Yeller than Summer of My German Soldier.

I loved the book this time as much as the first time I read it.  I even found myself underlining and highlighting passages throughout the book, shocked by the relevance to what is currently going on in the world.

Patty's classmate, Edna Louise, says at one point, "It is too.  God is on America's side and anybody who's against us is on the devil's side, and that's the truth."  Sounds a lot like the rhetoric going on with the war against terror and America's viewpoint that "you're with us or against us."  We still haven't learned that god doesn't pick a side in any war.

Similarly, Ruth recounts talking to the head of the draft board trying to get her son out of the WWII draft so he can finish his education.  The draft board tells Ruth, "...Why this is your boy's country, too, and he's gotta do his share so this country will always belong to us Americans."  The Irony or reading that sentiment in the same week we failed to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was not lost on me. We expect people to serve and possibly die for our country, yet we aren't willing to let them acknowledge who they are.

Patty's world view begins changing. She's growing up, and hears things going on in her community, and wonders "Is it possible that the rich would steal from the poor?"  While maybe not stealing in the literal sense, it certainly seems to be the haves controlling our destiny, and often without regard for the have-nots (and also reminds me of the line from U2's God Part II where Bono sings "The rich stay healthy, the sick stay poor.")

And perhaps to me, the most profound statement from Anton.  "I believe that love is better than hate. And that there is more nobility in building a chicken coop than in destroying a cathedral."  Substitute temple, mosque, and church for cathedral, and I think that's a pretty spot on observation for today as well.

This amazing story, and its relevance to what's going on in the world today, and people want it banned? How sad. Shame on us as a society for even entertaining the idea of banning books.


  1. Wonderful post and sounds like another one I will need to read and check off my banned books list.

  2. Thanks for reading. I really did enjoy this one, and was shocked to read why it was banned. Happy Reading!