In 1914, Beatrice, a spinster, arrives in an English country village to teach Latin at a grammar school. Although some citizens are skeptical about a female Latin teacher, she is able to make a few friends. Then World War I breaks out, and everyone, including Beatrice, is caught up in the effort to support the troops.
This book has several sub-plots that bring out the injustices of English society during that time. Soon after war breaks out, a group of refugees from Belgium arrives in the village. When one girl is found pregnant, the residents arrange to send her away. When Beatrice tries to help her, she is shunned. In the grammar school where she teaches, a gypsy boy who is bright with a serious interest in learning is not allowed to take a scholarship exam because of his family’s heritage. As a result of the war, lives and limbs are lost, and the book’s ending is happy and sad.
Despite the seriousness of the war and closed-mindedness of certain characters, parts of this book made me laugh. The sadness caused by loss of life as a result of the war moved me nearly to tears. The Summer Before the War made me thankful to be living in today’s world with modern medicine and more liberal views, even though some people still look down on minorities and those less fortunate than ourselves.