Review of A SONG FOR SUMMER by EVA IBBOTSON
As is often the case, Ellen didn’t turn out the way her family expected, or wanted. Her suffragette mother and aunts feel dismayed that Ellen embraces all the feminine ideals they reject: cooking, cleaning, cultivating calm in a chaotic home. She brings these missions with her when she starts working at an Austrian school for the arts. She tames the wild children and brings order where previously there was none, all while falling for the mysterious part-time help Marek, who is already plenty occupied shuttling people out of Nazi occupied territory.
A SONG FOR SUMMER starts a good conversation about feminism and what it means to be a strong woman. I’ve always believed that it’s about choosing your own path and resisting outside attempts to steer you in other directions, whether it be by those telling you be more traditional or those telling you to be less so. It’s all the same really: people telling you the right way to live your life. Only you can decide what’s right for you.
Ellen’s interest in the domestic isn’t described as a simple draw towards the familiar route, either. She has a mentor she admires, a woman who takes care of her uncle. For Ellen, it’s about being a good person, (Yes, that familiar ideal from Ibbotson’s works.) about providing for others for the greater good without expecting or requiring fanfare for all the effort.
This book probably has the least happily ever after of all Ibbotson’s young adult historical romances. As a warning, the rest of this paragraph contains very minor spoilers. As with the other novels, the romantic tension eventually bursts into a passionate display that then settles into true love and riding off into the sunset. Except in this one, there’s a Part Two to the book. As Ellen and Marek are readying themselves for their idyllic future together, the Nazis burn down Marek’s family home and idolized sanctuary, killing those inside. Marek becomes consumed with hate and revenge and turns into someone Ellen can’t be around. So Ellen marries someone else, someone she doesn’t love, but who provides her with the financial means to help others fleeing Hitler’s Reich. Marek and Ellen do eventually find each other again, but it’s years down the line after plenty of heartache and sacrifice. Ibbotson fled from the Nazis herself long before she started writing these books, so I interpret the fact that this novel is slightly darker than her others as indicative of the period about which she’s writing. I suspect for someone having lived through Hitler’s Reich, it’s difficult to portray a simple happily ever after around that time without giving more weight to the horror of the era.
As with all Ibboton’s works, I adore the large cast of varied characters. My favorites in this one undoubtedly include two children, the soft spoken Sophie who is growing into her own bravery and the cynical Leon, who is far less cynical when he’s around Sophie.
Though a bit more psychologically complex due to the war in the background, this novel is yet another sweet, funny romance that will warm your heart.