Review: Defiant Heart by Marty Steere

After losing his parents and brother in a tragic accident, young Jon Meyer is left to start over in a small Indiana town. Under the guardianship of a grandmother he’d never before known, Jon's new life begins at a high school filled with unfamiliar faces. As he struggles with the difficulties of being the new guy in a town unaccustomed to change Jon finds the troubled waters of his life disturbed anew when prejudice begins to take root: Jon is Jewish, and in 1941 under the shroud of World War II, very few people are inclined to make his association. Friendliest and most accepting is Mary Dalhgren, the amiable daughter of the town’s mayor. Mary is bold and intelligent, with a mind and spirit well beyond the simplicity of the town, and her connection with Jon is an instant one. As the two tentatively explore their feelings, they face obstacles in the shape of jealousy, bigotry, and even war. Mary’s father, misguided in his political aspirations, wants his daughter far away from the boy while high school basketball star Vernon King wants Mary on his arm - and no one else’s. When the tensions of prejudice reach a boiling point, a new tragedy tears Mary and Jon apart; and soon Jon finds himself in England fighting the Germans. As Jon and Mary both risk their lives, they share the hope of someday finding their way back to each other once and for all.

Defiant Heart, Marty Steere’s second novel, is a fascinating combination of history, romance, and the social extremes of the 1940s. The author has created a cast of characters that jump off the page, and he writes with a commendable attention to detail that carries the story to an even higher level. As I reflect on the story of Defiant Heart I find myself dividing it between two acts, the first following Jon and Mary’s budding relationship amid the prejudice of the town, and the second following Mary and Jon separately as they deal with the war and their loss of each other. Each act, as I’ll call them, is presented in wonderful clarity, with scenes that spark to life under the writer’s expertise before being woven together beautifully. Steere’s depictions of Jon’s struggles as an outsider – consequence of his Jewish faith, predominantly – were heartbreaking, but the truthfulness of the story leaves in the reader a deep sense of gratitude to the author. Steere is boldly willing to unearth the unpleasant realities of the flaws in America’s social landscape, and he does so with a great deal of grace and honesty. I love a good romance and the one between Jon and Mary was beautiful, certainly memorable, but where I really surprised myself was with the war scenes of the second act; the unsettling tension of Jon’s fight for survival, his eternal camaraderie with his fellow soldiers, and Steere’s stunning use of detail all combined for a substantial reading experience that had me riveted. It’s a testament to the author’s creations, Jon and Mary, that the reader is heart-bound in the scenes when they are apart as well as together.

For all that its story entails, Defiant Heart spares itself from being too heavy of a novel; it boasts no unnecessary bulk and reads in a way that relays plenty of detail without hampering the reader with too much information. It becomes a lovely volume that promises all manner of emotional attachment to its reader and entertains them without leaving them for a moment feeling daunted by the scope of the story; a winning combination, and it’s executed with great talent. Defiant Heart is a smart, tangible exploration of love, loss, and survival that will enfold its reader into its world and keep them tucked away until the very end.

Title: Defiant Heart Author: Marty Steere Genre: historical fiction Publisher: Penfield Publications Available Formats: e-book, paperback Release date: April 16, 2013 (paperback) / April 5, 2013 (e-book) Provided by: Marty Steere (c/o) Buy the book: Kindle | Barnes & Noble Connect with the author: Website | Goodreads

Defiant Heart