The War That Saved My Life is a book for young readers by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley. Ada Smith is a useless cripple, or at least, that’s what her mother says. Because of her twisted foot, she’s confined to their flat, while her beloved brother Jamie freely roams their London neighbourhood. It’s 1939, and Hitler is about to invade, so Jamie is to be sent to the country, along with hundreds of other children, for their safety. But Ada is determined not to be left behind.
When they get off the train in Kent, they are assigned to an extremely reluctant Susan Smith. They are surprised to be treated so well by her, certain that they do not deserve it and unconvinced they will be allowed to stay. But stay they do, and while not everything runs smoothly, they are very glad not be hungry and cold. Ada is immediately drawn to Butter, the pony in the attached field: her dream is to ride and jump fences. Jamie is drawn to the pilots at the nearby airfield, and Susan is forced to emerge from her long-standing depression to care for her vulnerable charges.
Bradley gives the reader a view of wartime Britain from the perspective of a ten-year-old whose life of hardship and cruelty has made it difficult for her to trust others or believe in herself. Ada’s ignorance and naiveté make for a refreshingly different view of the social customs and accepted behaviours of the time. Ada’s slow but steady emotional development, her resolute spirit and her courage are an inspiration. Readers will feel like cheering at the point that Ada declares “…my foot’s a long way from my brain”.
Bradley presents this episode in Britain’s history in a form that young readers will appreciate, learn from and enjoy: a moral tale wrapped up in an adventure story. She beautifully illustrates the detrimental effects of abuse and neglect, and the positive power of care, support and love. This critically acclaimed 2016 Newbury Honor Book is a moving and uplifting read.
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