January 31, 2017 by Lydia Syson
The new Sky Pony edition of That Burning Summer will be on the shelves of American bookshops from today, in beautiful hardback, introducing a whole new set of readers to the tensions, excitement and quirks of life in Britain in World War 2. Invasion, spyfever, fear of flying, pacifism, betrayal…and love, all in a corner of England so close to France you could hear the fighting across the channel: Romney Marsh, often referred to as the Fifth Continent.
This new edition doesn’t just have a striking new cover. It’s got a whole new penultimate chapter, and it has also been carefully ‘Americanised’. This was a fascinating process, which involved an extraordinary amount of headscratching and much consultation on both sides of the Atlantic. Many thanks to friends, family and fellow writers for all their thoughts. Although it’s fairly routine for British authors to have spelling and slang changed for North American readers (see Keren David’s blog post on the subject: ‘Sizzling sausages, tossers and trousers‘) I quickly realised that ‘Americanising’ period fiction opens a whole new can of worms, particularly for a novel set so squarely in England, and one which is partly about language itself. My editor was extremely patient as I weighed each word and considered its nuances. We moved from ‘pram’ to ‘stroller’ (surely too modern?), settled on ‘baby carriage’, and exchanged endless emails about underwear, which proved a mine field. (Pants, french knickers, vests, nappies, diapers…)
Unfortunately you won’t find these final changes in the NetGalley edition, as the ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) had to be rushed through while I was out of contact in a rainforest in Nicaragua last summer. So none of the reviews so far are based on the finished book people will (I hope) be buying from today! Nonetheless, reaction has been very encouraging so far.
The influential VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) magazine has just awarded the book a generous 9/10 rating, describing the book as ‘an engaging history/mystery/romance’:
5Q 4P J S NA
[5Q = quality (hard to imagine it better written), 5P = popularity (every young adult who reads was dying to read it yesterday). Only 3% of reviewed books published in 2016 got a 'perfect 10'.]
This many-layered story offers much to consider. The father’s conscientious objection and the pilot’s desertion raise antiwar messages and discussions about courage. Peggy’s “love” may come from guilt over her father’s choices and her own naiveté. Ernest illustrates how one can grow a mental monster from a few facts shaped by fear. Syson even explores how war energizes the local bully and challenges his victims. Yet, with all these issues, she produces a page-turner mystery that has the reader rooting for all her multidimensional characters. The audience will be primarily female, but the book is an excellent addition to any library collection. —Lucy Schall.
It’s a book of the month for Foreward Reviews:
‘The novel, told from alternating points of view, addresses the complicated moral grounds of desertion, cowardice, and compassion. Peggy, Ernest, and Henryk all have layered emotions about the war and each other that they must work through in the aftermath of Henryk’s accident. Trust at times runs thin, and shifting loyalties complicate their relationships. Despite the characters’ obvious sincerity, the culture of the war leads to an aura of suspicion that further disturbs the precarious peace. And while the novel starts off slowly, it soon picks up the pace, rapidly moving toward a final, explosive conclusion. That Burning Summer is a surprisingly sweet read, ideal for fans of historical fiction. The story takes a serious tone, but will pay off for those willing to take the thoughtful journey with Peggy, Henryk, and Ernest.’
And here are some other bloggers’ responses:
‘This is a fantastic book and a must read for historical fiction fans.’ Rattle the Stars
‘I fell in love with the story’ #AmReading
‘Looking for a character-driven WW2 novel? Look no further!’ Forever Young Adult
‘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.’ Adventures in Wordland
(This last was one of my favourite reviews, because it celebrated the effect that fiction about yesterday’s politics can have on today’s. It was tweeted by blogger Bree Garcia with the words: ‘It’s a great time for THAT BURNING SUMMER by @LydiaSyson because we need strong, brave women like Peggy.’)
I’m looking forward to hearing how the new version of novel goes down with other readers in North America. If you’re in the US, you can buy it from an independent bookshop here at Indiebound or from Barnes and Noble. Or Amazon. And of course you can review it yourself.
Meanwhile, over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, I’m celebrating my US publication day by exploring love and war in a number of highly recommended recent and upcoming historical novels for young readers set during times of conflict.