That Burning Summer

Written by Lydia Syson
Review by Pat Walsh

In the summer of 1940, a young Polish airman serving with an RAF squadron crash lands on Romney Marsh. Broken by his experiences as a pilot and the loss of his family and homeland, he decides to go AWOL. Sixteen-year-old Peggy finds Henryk and takes pity on him. She hides him in a remote church and brings him food and clothes, and a hesitant romance develops between them. Peggy’s twelve-year-old brother Ernest, anxious and obsessed with the Government’s wartime warnings and instructions, discovers his sister’s secret and believes Henryk is a spy. His need to prove his courage sets in motion a series of potentially tragic events.

This is a coming-of-age story as well as a love story. It is told from the viewpoints of Peggy, Henryk and Ernest, which works very well. Syson focuses on Peggy’s home, the nearby village and the marsh and keeps the war largely in the background. The details of daily life give a rich flavour of the period. Syson’s research is thorough but she blends it perfectly into the story. Her characters live and breathe on the page as they struggle to understand the complexities of cowardice and courage, loyalty and love.

My only criticism would be that the ending is very abrupt. There is an epilogue, which gives Peggy and Henryk’s story the necessary closure, but I felt it was an unsatisfactory way to end an otherwise very enjoyable book. This book could be read by younger teens, but would appeal to anyone with an interest in the period. Highly Recommended.