It seems like a crazy title – how on earth can a war save someone’s life? But the title is true to the book.
In The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Ada tells her story first-hand. It’s a difficult story of abuse and neglect. Ada is crippled, and her mother refuses to allow her out of the apartment. Inside the apartment, her mother beats her and locks her up in a small cupboard, giving her hardly enough food for Ada to survive. When Ada hears from her little brother Jamie that school children are being sent to the country to escape the bombings of World War II, she determines she must go with him.
She manages to escape her mother and her apartment. They end up with Susan Smith, a single woman mourning the loss of her friend. Susan declares she is not nice, but helps Ada bandage her sore and bleeding foot.
The three of them slowly learn to trust each other, in the midst of some very powerful outbursts and tantrums on the part of all three. What keeps Ada going is working with Susan’s horse, sadly neglected since her friend died. She learns what she can from the groom at the local manor house, and befriends the daughter of the house, who is usually away at boarding school.
This story is raw, broken and bleeding, much like Ada’s club foot as she leaves London. Ada, Jamie and Susan slowly help each other heal, even as Susan helps Ada’s foot heal. All healing comes to a screeching halt when Ada’s mother shows up from London, intent on taking her children back with her. Not because she wants them, but because she doesn’t want to pay for their room and board.
What happens next is shocking, amazing and made me cry. No spoilers here – the does have a happy ending.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
Note for parents: Bradley very subtly implies that Susan had a very close (perhaps lesbian) relationship with her friend who had died. Most children won’t pick up on it, but some will wonder why Susan feels ostracized from the village, why churches don’t agree with Susan, and why her father, a vicar, told her she cannot be redeemed and change her evil ways. I honestly think only the most sensitive of children will pick up on it.