A Story of Resilience, Hope, and Determination

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Katharine Britton

A middle-grade book that will appeal to all ages

The War that Saved my Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is a story of hope, resilience, and determination. The novel tells of Ada and her brother Jamie, children of an abusive, single mother all living in London on the eve of World War II.

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Ada, somewhere around eleven years old (her mother never celebrated her birthday) has a clubfoot. Because Ada’s foot is essentially upside down and she was never given crutches, she has never learned to walk. Mam (a character reminiscent of Pap in Huckleberry Finn) keeps Ada captive in their tiny London apartment, hidden from the world.  When Ada misbehaves, Mam locks her in the cupboard under the sink.

Then comes the threat of war and the concern that London will be bombed. Children, including Jamie, are to be evacuated to the country. Ada is informed that she will stay behind.

Ada has other ideas.

As the departure day approaches, Ada slowly, painfully teaches herself to walk. On the day of the evacuation, she and Jamie make their way to the train station, talk their way onto the train, and set off or a small town hours from London.

When the train arrives, the townspeople come to claim their new charges. No one wants the filthy, malnourished, surly, but highly resolved Jamie and Ada.

Enter the bereaved Miss Susan Smith, who never did and still does not want children, certainly not these two. Susan very recently lost her friend Becky, with whom she shared her home. Bradley broadly implies but never explicates that Susan and Becky might have been more than merely friends. 

The bulk of The War that Saved my Life is Ada’s first-person account of the children’s new life in the home of Susan Smith, a woman whose willpower, resilience, and perseverance equals that of Ada’s, a girl painfully aware of her deformity, totally unprepared for life, and hardened after years of abuse.

Bradley can be forgiven for making a few missteps as Ada recounts her first encounters with horses, cars, grass, friendly people… objects for which she has no words, because so much of Ada’s journey rings true. A child that has suffered eleven years of deprivation and abuse will not be made whole in a matter of months. Her journey to wholeness is believable and rendered with empathy and pathos. We believe Ada and root for her and Susan’s success.

The war eventually comes, and Bradley, an award-winning author of historical fiction, does an excellent job portraying life in war-torn England, especially the evacuation of Dunkirk.

At the end of The War that Saved my Life, Bradley provides enough closure to satisfy, but leaves enough unresolved to allow readers to imagine their own futures for Ada, Jamie, and Susan–or perhaps to hope for a sequel.

The War that Saved my Life, a Newberry Honor Book, is available at the Norwich Bookstore and wherever books are sold.


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