#BookReview: That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson

War Era Historical
Young Adult Historical

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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.

It’s fair to say that Salt to the Sea and Code Name Verity have ruined me for most young adult fiction. I used to make allowances for less intricate storylines and less emotive characters, but Ruta Sepetys and Elizabeth Wein proved that fiction marketed to adolescents can be just as compelling and addictive as that written for the adult market. The efforts of both authors have raised my expectations of the genre which likely explains my lack of enthusiasm for Lydia Syson’s That Burning Summer.

To be fair, I think the novel has a lot going for historically and feel it a creative means of teaching readers about the Battle of Britain and the wartime experiences of those on the home front during WWII. I particularly enjoyed those passages that touched on peace protests and conscious objector movement and felt Syson’s incorporation of these concepts brought a nice degree of context to the larger conflict. I also appreciated Henryk, not as an individual character, but as a representation of Polish pilots and their contribution to the war effort.

That said, I felt the novel lacked momentum and I often found myself bored with the style and tone of the telling. I’m not a writer and can’t put my finger on the exact issue, but something in the mechanics of the narrative didn’t mesh the way I needed it to. Much as I liked Syson’s ideas, I couldn’t get into her writing and ultimately didn’t care a whit for the characters or how their stories played out.

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 6, 2017

“I’ve decided,” he said. “I can’t. I can’t go back. Not now. I’ve thought and thought about it and there’s no point. There’s nothing there for me.” He sounded almost matter-of-fact, accepting, which increased Peggy’s bitterness on his behalf. He had told her in the end of his sisters’ fate. A day didn’t go by without her thinking about them. “But there’s work for good airmen all over the world—Holland . . . Argentina . . . Pakistan . . . They are all asking for us.”