Summer of Fire

17 August 2011

Summer of Fire
by Karen Bass
Coteau Books
Reviewed by Gail Jansen
Price $12.95 ISBN 9781550504156

Listed as a book for teens, Summer of Fire by Karen Bass, is an equally good read for anyone living with a teenager, for the insight it can give into the inner workings of a teen’s minds.

Set in modern day Germany, the book acts partly as a tour guide with its rich descriptions of the cities of Hamburg and Heidelberg, and partly as a history book, shedding light on a period that today stills haunts many Germans. Between these two facets is an engaging tale expertly interwoven that tells of two young girls who, despite the years that separate them, lead a parallel existence in many ways.

When the book’s heroine Del is sent from her Canadian home to Germany to live with her emotionally distant sister for the summer, Del’s feelings of abandonment intensify as does her anger and resentment, until the day she is introduced to the diaries of a young German girl named Garda. Del starts to realize the part she has played in her own exile, and that as different as life is today, the hardships faced by a young girl of the past bear some remarkable similarities to her own.

Written during the rise and fall of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, Garda’s diaries are a tool that Bass uses to mirror Del’s own life, and to add to the overall historic aspect of the novel. While the use of a diary in such a manner could become forced or overly sentimental, Bass weaves Del’s story and that of the diaries together so expertly that readers will feel equally connected to both girls, and fortunate to have the rare view of what life as an ordinary German citizen was like for those who lived in the midst of Nazi-ruled Germany.

Unlike many other “teen” novels, Summer of Fire doesn’t attempt to talk down to its young readers, nor does it candy coat the rebellious nature of its main character. Instead, Bass’s frank style of writing and the way in which she writes Del’s actions and dialogue rings true as the voice of a contemporary teen, instead of that of an adult pretending to be one. This gives the novel an authentic voice that adds to its credibility.

One of the biggest challenges with teenagers can be to try to have them to see outside of themselves to beyond their immediate situation and to realize that others have been on similar paths before them. Summer of Fire helps lift that veil to both validate its young readers’ feelings and to let them know this is not a path they walk alone.


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