Review by Laura Raines
In a video interview about The War that Saved My Life, author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley says that she hopes readers won’t be able to put it down, that they’ll be taken up with Ada’s story. She also says that she hopes readers will feel the emotions.
Her hopes are fulfilled! I devoured this book in a day, rooting for Ada all the way. She made me laugh, cry, fear, hope, and gave me a new perspective on WWII. The best historical fiction isn’t about telling the big stories of battles, strategies and turning points, but about the little stories of real people set within the context of their specific times. The little stories are personal and human, and when truly told, shed light on universal themes like the healing power of love and family.
Along with many children in 1939 London, ten-year-old Ada is evacuated to the English countryside to save her from the Luftwaffe bombing to come. But unlike other children, Ada was not sent by her loving family. Born with a twisted foot that makes walking without pain impossible, Ada has been confined to one room by an abusive mother who considers her an ugly monster. Her healthy, younger brother, Jamie is allowed to roam. The thought of losing Jamie and being left behind with her mother compels Ada to escape with her brother, hobble to the evacuee train, and secure her own freedom.
It’s a freedom fraught with uncertainty. They are taken in by a reluctant, older woman who is not perfect, but good-hearted. Ada will grow from never having experienced grass or trees, to being able to ride a pony, read, write, sew, and help in the war effort. She proves to be a fast learner. Learning to value herself and to trust the friendship and love of others is a much harder process.
The events of Hitler’s big war add danger and tension to Ada’s story. War brings changes, bravery, sacrifices and losses to the residents of this small English village. We see how pulling together in dire circumstances fosters new strengths and bonds.
While the subject matter and setting are serious, this is not a depressing story, nor an unrealistic fairy tale. Ada’s voice is strong and unforgettable. Her story is moving. The book is beautifully written and soul-satisfying. Readers ages 10 to 14 (and adults, too) will consider Ada, Jamie, Susan, Mr. Grimes, and Lady Thorton friends well worth making.
The War that Saved My Life is a Newberry Honor Book. It is also the 2016 winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (for Middle Grade) and the Odyssey Award for best audiobook for children.
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