Saturday, January 21, 2017

That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson

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

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Photograph of No. 305 Polish Bomber Squadron taken in 1942 at
RAF Cammeringham Lincolnshire
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 story lines 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 war time experiences of those on homefront during WWII. I particularly enjoyed those passages that touched on the 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.

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“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.”
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