Monday, April 10, 2017

That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson, 2017

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It’s July 1940 on the south coast of England. A plane crash-lands in the marsh, and sixteen-year-old Peggy finds its broken pilot—a young Polish airman named Henryk. Afraid and unwilling to return to the fight, Henryk needs a place to hide, and Peggy helps him find his way to a remote, abandoned church.

Meanwhile, Peggy’s eleven-year-old brother Ernest is doing his best to try to understand the war happening around him. He’s reading all the pamphlets—he knows all the rules, he knows exactly what to do in every situation. He’s prepared, but not for Peggy’s hidden pilot.

Told in alternating points of view, this is a beautifully written story about growing up in wartime and finding the difference between following the rules and following your heart.

(298 pages)

I've read a huge amount of WWII books over the past few years, so I've gotten rather picky about them. No, not exactly picky–not bored, either–just really eager to read books that approach the war from unique angles. I don't grow sick of reading about, say, Jews in hiding, but I do like to learn something new from the books I read rather than always focusing on the same (albeit terrible) things.

All that to say . . . I thought That Burning Summer stands out, but isn't incredibly unique. I've never read a book about a Polish airman before, and the details about his past ordeal are absolutely fascinating and horrifying, but the whole idea of someone harboring a fallen pilot in rural England was already covered wonderfully in Dan Smith's My Friend the EnemyI've read a lot of books that included details about the paranoia the Brits felt about an imminent German invasion, so those details also weren't novel to me, but I did appreciate seeing them carried to the level of almost Cold War-era paranoia–I hadn't realized just how much "doom and gloom" many average Brits felt about the war.

Moving on to analyzing the book as a novel, though, I have to point out that everyone (hopefully!) knows going in that the British isles were never invaded during WWII. This takes a lot of tension out of the read for us, because we never seriously worry about this the way Ernest does. Watching him obsess over the impending invasion does give us an insight into his personality, though, so it does serve some purpose.

To be honest, I enjoyed reading That Burning Summer but I didn't absolutely fall in love with it. I liked the different components of the story–learning about Henryk's past, the paranoia in town, Ernest's feelings of inadequacy, the whole storyline about their father that leaks out as the story goes on (and that gave me more new historical perspective!), etc.–but I also felt like many of them could have been fleshed out more. And the ending is fairly abrupt, jumping forward several years and then ending rather suddenly. I would have liked more detail about what had gone on between everyone in the interim years.

Overall, though, this was a pretty good read. If you're interested in it, then by all means do check it out!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and this post includes Amazon affiliate links.

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