That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson

Good Monday! I took a little time off because…well, really, if you live in America and understand the stupidity that less than half of us have gotten the rest of us into, you’d need some time off, too. It’s been a disheartening couple of months, but now is the time for action and resistance. This all leads into That Burning Summer, a book about a young woman resisting the chaos surrounding England during World War II and listening to her gut to save a downed pilot.


Title: That Burning Summer

Genre: Historical fiction/YA

Publication date: January 24, 2017


Romney Marsh, July 1940. When invasion threatens, you have to grow up quickly. Sixteen-year-old Peggy has been putting on a brave face since the fall of France, but now the enemy is overhead, and the rules are changing all the time. Staying on the right side of the law proves harder than she expects when a plane crash-lands in the Marsh: it’s Peggy who finds its pathetic, broken pilot; a young Polish man, Henryk, who stays hidden in a remote church, secretly cared for by Peggy. As something more blossoms between the two, Peggy’s brother Ernest’s curiosity peaks and other secrets come to light, forcing Peggy and Henryk to question all the loyalties and beliefs they thought they held dear.

Okay, first off, let me tell you about that cover. That is not the cover that first appeared on NetGalley when I requested this book, but I love this cover so much that I had to put it up here. It reminds me of a comic book, and I’m glad for the prettiness right before opening it up to the sadness.

Peggy and Ernest are learning how to live at their uncle’s farm after being forced to move there with her mother and little brother, her father gone. Ernest follows the rules set by England, memorizing the pamphlet that’s been sent to everyone and spouting off the rules like a good boy. Peggy listens to these rules, but doesn’t follow them as closely as Ernest, and that’s obvious when she finds Henryk, a Polish pilot who had to bail out of his plane. She takes him to an abandoned church so that he can live there safely until they can figure out what to do with him. But the road there is fraught with other patriotic Englishmen, questions from Peggy’s family, and the ever-present thought that Henryk is not who they think he is.

Henryk is an interesting character. He’s barely a man, yet he has already lived the kind of life that very few can envision. His home in Poland had been invaded by Nazis and he was forced into Romania, with the plan of getting into France where the Polish government had re-formed in Paris. He joins the air force, fighting for the Allies, but finds no pleasure in it. He only wants to find a home, a place where he can forget his mother and sisters who did not make it out of Poland. He spends a majority of the book in the church, thinking over his life and the choices that he’s made that got him there. His story unfolds slowly, his life spread through the pages like a trail of breadcrumbs.

While the love story surrounding Peggy and Henryk is sweet and so pure, it’s the oppressing thought of what’s going to happen to Henryk if he’s discovered that takes all your attention. I tried to keep my hope to myself that these two would find love and run off into the sunset with smiles, because with a sudden murder, the discovery of a radio, and suspicious villagers coming out of their homes to search, happiness was too much to hope for. I found myself hoping that Peggy and Henryk would just make it out of this problem with their heads still attached.

Can I also say that, besides the looming threat of Nazis, the biggest villain in this book is Aunt Myra? Maybe villain is too big of a word for her. Pain in the butt? Yeah, that sounds more appropriate. I understand that she has her own family to watch out for, but the absolute rudeness displayed with Peggy is almost too much. Peggy isn’t a bad kid, but she does like to wander around by herself and doesn’t like household chores like her cousin June, or any woman, I guess, for that matter. Rules were harder and more defined during this time, and Peggy doesn’t really fit into those rules, and that drives Aunt Myra crazy. But there are plenty of times where I want to slap her.

Also! Even though the characters are all fictional, this book was inspired by real events, like a German airman who bailed out of his plane and survived for nine days until he turned himself in. This book might have a happier ending than that one {no spoilers}, but that story sticks with you until the end. The worry and the constant breathlessness is forever there, and I think it only helps the book. There is no guarantee of a happy ending and that keeps the reader on his or her toes until the very end.

Like I said before, this is a book that I needed in these last few months. Peggy is strong and resourceful, and she resists for as long as she can before certain things come into play. She believes in herself and does what she thinks is best, even if Henryk could be a Nazi. She knows this and yet still is kind to him, still provides him with food, and still tries to help this poor boy stuck in a foreign country who believes him to be a threat even if he’s not. It’s beautiful and sad and sweet, and sometimes all these feelings are felt at once and you want to burst. But don’t! Trust me. This book is too good to have your burst right in the middle of it and never finish it.

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