Published October 3rd 2017 by Dial Books
Format read: ARC via publisher
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World War II continues, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed cottage on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton—along with Lady Thorton herself and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded cottage is tense enough, and then, quite suddenly, Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? The occupants of the house are horrified. But other impacts of the war become far more frightening. As death creeps closer to their door, life and morality during wartime grow more complex. Who is Ada now? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?
Second, I'm darned well glad I did skip ahead, because The War I Finally Won is everything I wanted it to be, and more. I'm generally wary of sequels to notable books - most of are done well, but don't necessarily capture the same magic of the first - but Brubaker Bradley has hit it out of the park, once again.
We're reintroduced to Ada in the immediate aftermath of the first book. She's on the verge of having her clubfoot fixed, which in turn, would lead to a new life. While this should reassure Ada, she struggles with the idea that her mother is dead, and she is uncertain whether Susan is still vested in taking care of her and Jamie. With an additional escalation in the war, an array of challenges are brought to Ada's doorstep, and she's not sure how to fight back...
In The War that Saved My Life, Brubaker Bradley did a masterful job of showing Ada's day-to-day struggles with evolving from someone who has constantly fought for survival, to someone who no realizes that she is no longer solely responsible for said survival. In The War I Finally Won, we see that mentality expanded, as she evolves into teaching others how to fight for survival, using some of the gumption and pure force of will - albeit, modified - that she displayed in the first novel.
It's an interesting full circle approach, particularly when applied to characters like the Thorton family and Lady Thorton herself. Ada spent a portion of the first novel struggling with feeling like she couldn't relate to Lady Thorton or Maggie, so it's both gratifying (and a bit humbling), when we realize that with the war on, Lady Thorton actually stands to learn to learn much from Ada's scrappy, pragmatic approach. It allows the two of them to connect on equal ground, in a way that is made all the more clear during a trip to London in the latter half of the novel.
Outside of Ada's immediate, pre-existing circle, the inclusion of Ruth is an interesting and beneficial one. Brubaker Bradley does a solid job of acknowledging the realities of concentration camps and persecution of Jewish families throughout Europe, without overwhelming younger readers.
(Though, said readers will likely have many questions to ask, so definitely be prepared for this.)
Ruth is also a tacit reminder that just because a person is representative of one specific community, they don't necessarily speak for the community as a whole. Though I doubt Brubaker Bradley necessarily thought of using Ruth as a commentary on many of the societal challenges we face today, educators and parents could use the discrimination that is initially experienced by Ruth, as a jumping off point to discuss some of the challenges that are currently being expressed and experienced in our current climate.
Though there are elements of The War I Finally Won that follow a typical WWII narrative - e.g. certain character deaths; the subsequent grief - Brubaker Bradley's careful direction and pacing will make the journey a solid and rewarding one. Ada evolves from the scared, hostile girl of the first novel, into someone who channels her previous life, into a better one that helps her save others. And that alone, makes this a worthwhile, rewarding sequel.
Highly recommend, full stop.