It has been six years since Patty Bergen harbored, Anton Reiker, an escaped German POW. It was both one of the most fulfilling, and one of the most haunting experiences of her life. Even more affecting is the abuse that has been heaped on Patty by her parents all of her young life. Now a legal adult and just graduated from high school, she has a burning need within her to find a sense of belonging. Patty's connection with Anton was so strong, she has spent all these years dreaming of nothing but meeting his mother in hopes that she might fill Patty's emotional emptiness.
Against her entire family's wishes, Patty decides to travel to Europe in search of her dream. She first visits Paris where she meets Roger, a handsome, free-spirited Frenchman, who sweeps her off her feet and into a passionate affair. Patty has never felt happier than during the time she has spent with Roger, but her obsessive need to find a mother who will love and respect her for who she is still plagues her and may drive a wedge between the young lovers that cannot be overcome.
Although there doesn't seem to be an official series title, Morning Is a Long Time Coming is a sequel to Bette Greene's modern classic, young-adult novel, Summer of My German Soldier. Since that book had a decidedly unsatisfying ending, I was glad to see that Ms. Geene had written a follow-up. I had always felt that there were many reviewers who mis-characterized Summer of My German Soldier as a romance. I didn't really see it as such for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the 10-year age difference between Patty and Anton and the fact that she was still just a girl when they met. Love can take many different forms, and although Patty and Anton cared for each other deeply, I was never 100% convinced that what they shared was a romantic sort of love. Nevertheless, Patty does begin this book with unresolved issues surrounding her time with Anton. Undoubtedly, a lot of reviewers will view Morning Is a Long Time Coming as even more of a romance than the first book, because of Patty's relationship with Roger, a young Frenchman she meets in Paris (which I will concede is definitely of the romantic variety), but at it's heart, this book is totally about Patty's journey of self-discovery of which Roger is just one part. He brings joy and happiness to her life that she had never known before, but ultimately, Patty must vanquish her demons on her own.
When we first meet up with Patty again, she is now a young woman just graduating from high school, but the frightened, hurt little girl is still there, as is her burning need to belong to someone. Of course, her parents think her crazy for wanting to spend her graduation money on a trip to Europe, but that's exactly what she does with a plan in the back of her mind to meet Anton's mother, thinking that she can receive from her what Patty's own mother was never willing or able to give. Of course, the best laid plans often go awry, especially when the person who makes them is relying on someone else to provide emotional security.
I felt that in the six years between books, Patty had grown and matured. She engaged in a fair bit of self-analysis, as well as trying to figure out her parents, why they were abusive toward her and why she never seemed to be able to please them no matter what she did. I could really relate to Patty feeling like a square peg in a round hole. She discovers that she is pretty socially inept with her peers which isn't too surprising. Some of that comes from a lack of self-confidence that was beaten out of her all her life by parents who constantly criticized and were physically, emotionally and mentally abusive. The rest is quite simply that Patty truly is different in the way she thinks and perceives the world around her. She is more open-minded than most about those who are different from her and truly wants to give of herself to help others. It's what drove her to assist Anton all those years ago, even knowing that it might lead to more trouble than she could imagine, and her quest to understand this part of herself still drives her now. In fact, all of these things weigh so heavily on her that it makes her physically ill. Once she is out of her stifling hometown, Patty finally feels a freedom she's never known, yet I wasn't too surprised to see that the first young man she felt attracted to on the voyage to Europe was just like her father, critical, demanding and temperamental. She is definitely a classic case of an abused person gravitating toward what is familiar and comfortable even if it isn't good for her. I was glad to see that didn't last long, and when Patty got to Paris and met Roger, it was like she became a whole different person around him. It was uplifting to finally see her laugh and smile, but those old demons still lurked in the background, keeping Roger at arms length. When Patty finally made her decision to go to Germany, I understood her obsession with needing to meet Anton's mother, but at the same time, I agreed on some level with Roger that he deserved better considering all that they had shared.
Roger is the only supporting player with a meaty role in this book, but since the entire story is written in first-person perspective from Patty's point of view, we don't get a lot of deep insights into his character. However, there were just enough relationship scenes for me to really like him. He is a gentle, free-spirit who is the perfect foil for Patty's more serious nature. I liked that Roger was a gentleman. He very easily could have taken advantage of Patty when she got drunk once, but instead took care of her and waited for her to sober up before trying to take things any further. Throughout their time together he was tender and sweet, but at the same time, those wonderful qualities are what make Patty a bit suspicious of him and his motives, because she has only ever known men who were hard and cynical. In many ways, Roger understood Patty even better than she understood herself, but when her obsession with somehow making Anton's family the family she never had finally reared its ugly head, he was understandably upset and said some hurtful things. Luckily, Roger was a very forgiving man who truly did love Patty and wanted to make a life with her.
There were certain elements in Summer of My German Soldier which has caused it to have a long-time place on the most banned/challenged books list, and Morning Is a Long Time Coming followed suit with some of the same potentially objectionable content while upping the maturity level. Though not pervasive, there are some mild and religious profanities peppered throughout the book as well as racial slurs against Mexicans and African Americans, including several uses of the "n" word. Patty smokes a couple of times, drinks wine on a few occasions and one time consumes a stronger alcoholic beverage, getting drunk. Patty's father threatens to beat her, and her parents are abusive. There is mention of Patty's father having "taken advantage" of young ladies, and some mild discussion of sex in general including but not limited to Patty's parents thinking she's sexually active and possibly pregnant, and a classmate who earned a colorful nickname for apparently messing around with the boys. There is also one love scene between Patty and Roger that ends in a cut scene with no real details, but some may find it troublesome that the couple have just met at that point and then live together for the next few months without being married. Additionally, the complexities of Patty's emotions may be difficult for even adults to understand, so in that respect, I thought it had more the feel of an adult novel. However, in spite of all this, I still did not feel that there was anything that older teens couldn't handle especially with parental or educator guidance. As a parent, I wouldn't object to my 15 year old reading it.
Morning Is a Long Time Coming is a story that delves fairly deeply and realistically into the psyche of an abused person and her efforts to make sense of that in order to carve a meaningful place for herself in the world. For that reason alone, I thought the book was emotionally touching and deserved kudos. That said though, I couldn't help wanting the ending to be a little more solid than it was, which is why I knocked off the half star. By the time I finished the book, I did believe that Patty had learned some valuable insights about herself and life in general and was finally on the right road. It was just that her peace did not feel quite complete to me, but then again, she was still very young with much ahead of her and this type of recovery is always a lifelong journey. Although as I've already said, I fully realize that this story was not really meant as a romance, the hopeless romantic in me also wanted an HEA for Patty and Roger, mainly because I thought they complimented each other well, and after everything she'd been through Patty quite simply deserved it. The way it wrapped up felt like more of an HFN (happy for now) ending, but at least, I felt like they had a strong chance to make it work on a more permanent basis. Overall, I liked Morning Is a Long Time Coming very much. It has earned a spot on my keeper shelf and with two lovely books in a row, Bette Greene has earned a spot on my favorite authors list. She is a writer who is good at expressing the emotional and psychological complexities of her characters and who doesn't seem to be afraid to explore issues of marginalization or other controversial topics. I love these types of stories, so this makes me eager to check out the other books she has written soon.
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