I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
That Burning Summer by Lydia Syson
Release date: January 24th, 2017
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Young adult, historical fiction
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.
I used to read tons and tons of historical fiction. It was my go-to genre but in the past year or so I’ve switched to pretty much only reading fantasy. I’ve completely neglected the genre that used to bring me so much joy. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to read That Burning Summer. Set during the Second World War with that amazing vintage cover I knew I was going to love it and I really did! This is a fantastic book and a must read for historical fiction fans.
I read through this book at unbelievably quickly. I remember looking down and realizing I was at 50%. I only planned on reading for a while then going about doing other work. This book had other ideas. I just kept reading on and on. I was so drawn into the story by the characters. That Burning Summer takes place in the English countryside near the beginning of the war. Peggy and her by-the-book brother Ernst (who was exceptionally irritating) have recently moved in with their aunt and uncle. While out in the field Peggy stumbles upon Henryk, a Polish pilot who crash-landed in a nearby marsh. Peggy cares for Henryk but knows that she would be in a lot of trouble if she was caught. Henryk doesn’t want to return to the war and it’s illegal to conceal deserters.
I loved the whole what will happen? Will they get caught? How long can it last? There was a lot of tension and me rooting Peggy and Henryk on. Their slow developing romance was a lovely but I wish it could have had a larger role in the overall plot. These two deserved more time. A lot of the pages were sadly dedicated to Peggy’s brother Ernst who drove me crazy! He was constantly going on about the rules and you just knew from the first page that he was going to cause some major drama.
What really stood out for me was just how accurate and precise the history was within the story. The author, a history teacher, must have conducted extensive research. She really knew her stuff but didn’t overload the reader with facts and details. It never felt like a history class. Information was introduced naturally and the story flowed without interruption.
So many other books have been written about the Second World War. For a book to stand out it must discuss topics not usually seen and I applaud the author for highlighting the contribution Polish pilots and soldiers made to the British war effort. Also, how deserters were treated is something not often brought up. We always read books about the “brave” soldier but what about the ones so traumatized that they cannot go on? For these reasons alone this book is really one that needs to be read.
So, if you are looking to pick up a well written and fast paced piece of historical fiction, That Burning Summer is for you! I’m really glad that I discovered this book and I cannot wait to pick up other books written by Lydia Syson.
Lydia Syson is a fifth-generation North Londoner who now lives south of the river with her partner and four children. After an early career as a BBC World Service Radio producer, she turned from the spoken to the written word, and developed an enduring obsession with history. Her PhD about poets, explorers and Timbuktu was followed by a biography of Britain’s first fertility guru, Doctor of Love: James Graham and His Celestial Bed, and then two YA novels for Hot Key Books set in the Spanish Civil War (A World Between Us) and World War Two (That Burning Summer). Liberty’s Fire, a passionate tale of the Paris Commune of 1871, is the third of her novels to be inspired, very loosely, by family history: Lydia’s anarchist great-great-grandmother moved in Communard circles in late nineteenth-century London.