The War that Saved My Life
Written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Published January 8, 2015
The Newbery award winners for 2016 were announced a couple weeks ago, and ever since, I've been anxiously waiting for them to become available at the library. I cruised through Echo (written by Pam Munoz Ryan), and then dug into The War that Saved my Life. Both are historical fiction novels focusing on adolescents living during World War II, and each focused on similar social issues, but I came away with incredibly different feelings after reading each of them.
Ada is ten years old and living in London with her mother and her younger brother, Jamie. Ada's mother is extremely abusive towards Ada, and resents her for having a club foot. It only takes an initial introduction to her mother for the reader to be disgusted by her. Ada is not allowed to leave the apartment because no one would want to see such a handicap. As a result, Ada has not been to school, cannot read or write, has little interaction with other children, and does not know the meaning of simple words, such as grass, etc. On top of this, she is physically abused, receives limited food, receives extreme punishments, and is the target of many verbal attacks.
When Jamie comes home from school, and tells the family that children are being evacuated out of London due to the war, Ada takes the opportunity to escape out of her atrocious life with her mother to live in the country. She takes Jamie to the school where children are meeting up to head to the country. For the first time ever, Ada catches a glimpse of herself in a mirror. Not knowing that it was her own reflection, she describes herself as "the nastiest girl" she has ever seen.
When they arrive by train in Kent, they are looked over by families that are there to take the evacuees home. Ada and Jamie are the only ones that are not chosen, so the organizer takes them to the home of a woman who does not want to take care of children, but ends up doing so anyway. Susan Smith is still in the process of grieving her best friend when Ada and Jamie show up in her life, and the rest of the story covers the journey that the three of them take in learning to take care of each other, and try to form positive relationships despite depression and anger resulting from abusive relationships.
I have such mixed feelings in regards to this book.
I loved the growth and miracle that occurs in Ada as she gains freedom and care while living with Susan. The war really does save her life by giving her the opportunity to escape at least temporarily from her home life. Susan has a pony that Ada is immediately attached to, and gains a lot of independence through the ability of riding and taking care of the pony. She grows physically, gains friends, and grows intellectually. Crutches allow her to walk without putting pressure on her club foot. She shows maturity as she helps in times of war crisis. I also enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel, and the perspective of children evacuated during war.
At the same time, I struggled greatly with it. The abuse that is shown by the mother is extremely disturbing and depressing. Along with the abuse were other societal issues that I do not think needed to be included, but seem to be increasingly present in children's literature. Susan was grieving her best friend, and it never comes out completely to describe the nature of her relationship with her friend, but I got the idea that it was her significant other of the same gender.
Ada struggled emotionally while dealing with trust issues for most of the book, which would be completely understandable after the abuse that she had faced. There were many joyful moments and victories throughout the book, but I kept hoping for some more resolution throughout the book.
My Rating: 3 stars (It is not an instant recommendation, and comes with some disclaimers.)
Age: I wouldn't recommend this for elementary school students. With all of the societal issues included in the novel, especially the abuse, I would recommend older and more mature readers.