Monday, April 15, 2013

Defiant Heart by Marty Steere — 400 pgs

The year is 1941, and fifteen year old Jon Meyer has just lost both parents and his younger brother in an auto accident. With no other living relatives, Jon is sent to live with his maternal grandmother, whom he has never met, in a small Indiana town. Once there, Jon is shunned by his grandmother and the townsfolk, for he is the only Jewish resident, and at this critical time in history, Jews are not universally accepted. Jon goes through torment after torment when the school’s basketball coach takes a serious dislike to him, garnering him the hate and ostracism of the basketball team and ultimately the whole student body. But one person doesn’t hate Jon, and this person is a leading citizen’s only daughter, Mary. As Jon sets about trying to make something out of his much-maligned reputation, he meets a few very caring strangers and suddenly has the respect and friendship that he has been looking for.When Jon and Mary begin a secret relationship, both are elated, but when the head basketball player, Vernon King, takes notice, he decides that Jon’s star has risen high enough. Vernon sets about to destroy the boy in a manner that puts Mary right in the middle. Through a series of unprincipled events, young Jon finds himself living the Army life. Here, Jon finds a niche and becomes an unlikely hero. But will he ever see Mary again and return to the town as the golden boy that he truly is? In this compelling and dramatic novel, Marty Steere creates the rich and bittersweet tale of a boy hated for something that he cannot change or control, and forced to give up his freedom and love to a group of unholy enemies.

This book had me at the opening scene. A young orphan arrives at the train depot to a waiting woman who has already decided to hate him. But it’s not that simple, for Jon is a boy with an extraordinary talent for fixing what’s wrong in people’s lives. He’s charming and charismatic, but this does nothing for him because of his ancestry. It was very hard to read about Jon’s plight, for it was shameful and felt almost too true to be fiction. It’s true that before the United States’ involvement in the war, there were precious few friends of the Jews. I never fully realized the impact this had on American Jews, nor how they might have been treated before America stepped into the showdown with Germany.

Though very dark and gritty, this was a book that was shot through with glimmers of hope so bright that I could not help but root for this underdog and hope that he had the might to endure until his time came. Jon was not totally alone, and this gave me heart. There were a few people that cared for him, and even loved the boy who was so hated. Even Jon’s grandmother, Marvella, began to see that this was a boy like no other, and that he deserved a place in her heart. For Mary, there was no other. The love between them was electric yet innocent, and though the odds were tremendous that they would never be together, it was impossible not to wish for that outcome.

When Jon enters the war, I finally saw the beleaguered boy turn into a man that any American could and should be proud of. His losses were devastating, but somehow he rose above the hurt and powerlessness again and again. He was brave and loyal, strong and commanding. This was a story about wars—the hateful wars fought against a boy in his hometown and across the skies of Europe as well. It was not only suspenseful, but hearty, and kept its tight narrative structure for the entirety of the novel. Full of unexpected twists and turns, there was no way to put this one down, for I never knew where the next punch would land or who would be throwing it.

I loved this book, but its title may lead people to believe that it’s only a silly love story, when in fact it’s so very much more. It left me with a myriad of feelings from helplessness to pride, and every step I took with Jon was filled with the knowledge that I was being lead into a rousing and compelling tapestry of inner strength, redemption, and spirit. Looking for something a little off the beaten path that will keep you inveigled and tightly gripped? Then look no further. Highly recommended!

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

17 comments:

Book Dilettante said...

Sounds like an interesting historical novel about those prewar times. So glad we have come a far way from then. Great review, Heather!

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

What a glowing recommendation! And how true ~ we don't realize how badly the American Jews were (and to this day still are in some aspects) ostracized. Sounds like bullying is a major message of the novel as well ~ bullying due to religion and the simple fact of being born and bullying due to jealousy? This is definitely one I'd like to seek out. Gorgeous review Heather!

Beth F said...

I have to say that I would have likely passed this one by. But your review has made me think I should add it my list.

Darlene said...

I likely would have passed on this one as well but your thoughts on it have piqued my curiosity. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Suko said...

Excellent review, once again! I think this would be a very good book to read and share with a group such as a book club.

Teddy Rose said...

Thanks for taking part in the tour. I'm so glad you loved Defiant Heart as much as I did.

Suko, I think it would make a great book club book!

bermudaonion said...

I probably would have passed this one by too. Jon sounds like a wonderful character!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I am adding too many new book too y list because of you lately -- it's okay though I forgive you:)

This does sound good.

Vasilly said...

Wow. The title and cover doesn't do anything for me, but reading your review made me realize that this book is a keeper!

Literary Feline said...

I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for him, to lose his parents and then grow up in a town that ostracizes and picks on him. I've always found that part of our history so sad, but also interesting. I am adding this one to my wish list. Thanks for the great review, Heather.

Charlie (The Worm Hole) said...

Good point about the title, it intimates either a romance or a story of strength, but a romance a lot more. I like the sound of the historical setting, learned quite a lot just from your review!

Athira said...

That opening scene is definitely powerful and I like everything you've described about this book. I haven't come across this one before so I'm going to look for it.

Audra said...

Yes, by title and cover I wouldn't have picked up but you've made it sound wonderful! I'm def adding to the TBR!

Aarti said...

I agree the title on this one sounds like one I'd never pick up, but you have absolutely convinced me on it! Adding it to my wish list.

And I promise that after this time next week, when my life settles down, I shall return your email :-)

Mary (Bookfan) said...

I'll be spotlighting this in a few weeks. I didn't have time to read/review it but it's on my list. So glad to see you liked it.

Buried In Print said...

I really enjoy novels which consider the ways in which wartime is experienced on the "home front"; this one sounds like an immediately engaging and satisfying read. Thanks for adding it to my TBR!

Teena in Toronto said...

I enjoyed this book.

http://www.teenaintoronto.com/2013/05/book-defiant-heart-2013-marty-steere.html

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