“It was us, I thought. Jamie and me. We had fallen down a rabbit hole, fallen into Susan’s house, and nothing made sense, not at all, not anymore.”
― Kimberley Brubaker Bradley, The War That Saved My Life
Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room flat. 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 for Ada, and for Miss Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take in the two children. 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 book may be the most surprising one I have come across this year. Brilliant and poignant, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley is an incredibly touching story about a girl with no hope finding her place in the world, and a reason to live.
Nine-year-old Ada has never stepped outside the apartment she lives in with her Mam and six-year old brother Jamie. Imprisoned by her Mam, Ada is treated as an abomination due to an untreated clubfoot, one she’s had since birth. Her Mam is a cruel and abusive person, finding Ada’s disability humiliating. Not only does she lock her in small dark spaces but she deprives her of food. Ada’s only light comes from looking after Jamie. As he grows up, he shares more and more of the outside world with her and when she learns the children of London are being evacuated to the countryside to be protected from the impending war, Ada finds the courage to teach herself to walk. It takes enormous mental and physical strength for her to do so; she is driven by thoughts of escaping her Mam and taking Jamie to a safer place. When the time finally comes, Ada and Jamie find themselves in the hands of Susan, a reluctant guardian who is mourning the death of a dear friend. The basic care she is able to provide is life changing for the two children, and for Susan herself.
This book is not a story of war; while World War Two provides the perfect backdrop it is about so much more than that. At such a young age, Ada has been subject to unimaginable neglect and cruelty. She is a cold and distanced child and rightly so. She is protecting herself from being mistreated and it takes the whole book for Ada to realise that not everyone is like her Mam. Despite being treated so poorly by her, Ada still desires the love and acceptance her mother will never be able to provide. She views Susan as another adult who will eventually hit, mistreat or discard her and over the course of the story, Ada’s realisations that Susan – and their new country life – are different, are quite poignant in their simplicity. Susan is patient and kind despite the volatile situation and her relationship with Ada, although tenuous is a beautiful one. Ada’s progress is fuelled by her continued fight for independence. If teaching herself to walk wasn’t enough, her instant love of Butter – a pony also in need of a friend – motivates her to teach herself to ride!
The War That Saved My Life is such an important story as it shows how damaging ignorance can be and how life-changing love and care are in times of adversity. Ada’s fight to live and her determination to prove her mother wrong is a joy to read. I loved absolutely everything about this book from the language used to the beautiful characters that jump off the page. It is a book that has stayed with me in the same way that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas did, many years ago. The War That Saved My Life is an achingly sad story but one that will leave you feeling inspired, hopeful and thankful for the chance to read such a beautiful book.
AUTHOR: Kimberley Brubaker Bradley
PUBLISHER: Text Publishing
PUB DATE: 16 May 2016
Thank you to Text Publishing for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!