The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: January 8, 2015
Born with a club foot and an abusive mother, ten-year-old Ada Smith has never left her London apartment. When German bombs threaten the city and her younger brother is evacuated, Ada seizes her chance and sneaks away with him. The pair is shipped to the English countryside with other evacuees and pawned off on Susan, a single woman who never had children and never wanted any.
Encountering a freedom she has never known before, Ada physically thrives in the country. She walks with the aid of crutches, teaches herself to ride a horse, learns to read and write, and hunts for German spies. While Ada’s well-honed survival instinct tries to keep her heart locked up tight, she slowly learns to trust Susan.
The emotional arc of this story is very satisfying. Each set-back that Ada experiences forces her to open up a little more. On a subconscious level she recognizes that Susan cares for her, but this thought terrifies Ada. Someday her mother will come to reclaim her. When that day arrives, Ada fears she will once again become the ugly, stupid, crippled girl so she cannot relinquish her emotional armor. Ada fights Susan’s love with a feisty flippancy that middle-grade readers will recognize. But even while Ada verbally holds Susan at arm’s length, she also brews Susan’s tea, knits Susan a Christmas scarf, and lets her shoulder lean against Susan’s arm as they sit side-by-side. This emotional evolution feels genuine and earned.
My one complaint with this book was its lack of historical detail in the setting. The story takes place in England in the middle of World War II. That time and place was not communicated with the rich detail that can transport a reader to the distant past.
The War that Saved my Life was a Newbery Honor winner for 2016 and it deserved such an accolade. This is a moving story about one girl’s personal war for survival in the midst of a national struggle. Readers will root for Ada Smith, a girl with determination, courage, and a great capacity for love.
Bio: Judy Dodge Cummings writes MG/YA fiction and nonfiction from her home in rural Wisconsin. A former history teacher, Judy has a MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Teens from Hamline University. Her latest book, Human Migration: Investigate the Global Journey of Mankind, will be released by Nomad Press in June 2016.