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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
In his novel Where Summer Strives, Thomas Thornburg takes us on a journey to a working class neighbourhood of a Midwestern city, towards the end of the Second World War, where social and racial divides are very much still the norm. When a wealthy, educated, but disillusioned young man, Harvey Sloan, decides to lose himself in alcohol, he winds up falling from a freight car right into the working class neighbourhood and decides to stay a while. The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of eleven-year-old Tobe Jackson, who witnesses the profound changes taking place all around him, with the guileless perception that only the young possess. When a black family moves into the exclusively white neighbourhood, Tobe is drawn to the young black boy, Samuel, and they become fast friends. With Harvey’s educated ways and Samuel’s family’s racial heritage, the scene is set for confrontation and a challenging of old ideas and prejudices.
Thomas Thornburg has shown considerable bravery as an author to tell this story through the eyes of a child, but he has done an excellent job. He captures extraordinarily well the spirit of 1940s America, rife as it was with its racial and social prejudices. Where Summer Strives shows that the key to understanding those who are different to us is communication and friendship. Samuel, as a character, was the perfect foil to Tobe. Before Samuel’s arrival, Tobe was the smart one at school, he was the learned one of their group, but, despite that, Tobe and Samuel find common ground and make their differences work for them, rather than against them. The dialogue, although at times difficult to read because of the local and era colloquialisms, certainly seemed to ring true of the period and the seeming nothingness that can immediately capture the interest of young boys and hold them rapt for a length of time was portrayed perfectly. As a social commentary of the time and the location, this book does a fine job and I enjoyed the read. I can definitely recommend this story for readers who like to think a little as they read, as well as enjoy plenty of action.