Happy Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, Reading Nook!
Today, I'm reviewing The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This is the story of Ada and Jamie, two displaced siblings in wartime England, who are billed with Susan, a woman who never thought she'd want a family.
Even though Ada, Jamie and Susan never expected to find family or love with each other, they soon begin to realize that both can exist in the most unlikely of places.
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Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: January 8th 2015 by Dial
Format read: E-ARC via publisher
Bradley's writing, spot-on characterization and compelling story, will make this a story that readers of all ages will cherish, and make this a classic in the making.
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.
Bradley introduces us to ten-year-old Ada, a young girl with an untreated club foot who has never left her London apartment. Her mother has convinced her that she should be ashamed of her deformities, and should hide herself away from the rest of the world.
However, when her younger brother Jamie is scheduled to be evacuated to the British countryside, Ada decides that she can't let him go alone. She sneaks out to join him, and brother and sister are billeted with Susan Smith, a woman who is struggling with her own loss in life. While distrustful of one other at first, Ada, Jamie and Susan quickly begin to find love and family in each other...
Bradley's tale of a girl who begins to discover that her world is far more expansive than her one-bedroom London flat, is alternately poignant and heartbreaking. Bradley absolutely nails Ada's voice from the very first page, showing that years of being locked up by her mother have left her with a naivete that makes every joyous discovery in her new life, all the more heartbreaking.
Even as Ada and Jamie settle into life with Susan in the countryside, Bradley is careful to show that years of emotional manipulation cannot be easily escaped. Despite establishing her own identity and circle of friends in her new home, Ada cannot let go of the idea that she can still have a happy family life with her mother and brother. Through Ada's struggles to come to terms between her past and her present, Bradley tactfully explores just what it takes to help someone gain the self-confidence to overcome so many years of emotional manipulation,
While Ada ultimately proves her bravery and courage, both at home and in direct relation to the ongoing war, it's the journey that she takes to get there, (and those whom she influences in the process), which makes Bradley's book such a compelling read.
Of special note: Bradley approaches the concept of child abuse and mental illness with profound sensitivity and understanding throughout the novel. While she doesn't hesitate to show the genuine scars that harsh, abusive actions can cause on younger children, Bradley is also careful to show Ada and Jamie's growing awareness that they are not responsible for the actions of others. They should not and cannot blame themselves for others who chose to behave badly to them.
Educators and parents will likely appreciate Bradley's subtle message that individuals can control how we react to situations, and not let the emotions of other dictate feelings of self-worth. Ada and Jamie's struggles to overcome past criticism, can also help encourage potential discussions on how to overcome previous peer and societal pressure.
I highly recommend The War that Saved My Life for fans of middle-grade historic fiction. I also recommend Bradley's book for educators and parents who are looking for a title that humanizies the difficulties of war and certain family dynamics, while also providing younger readers with examples of how two young siblings deal with their own challenges, as they learn to love themselves and each other.