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Review of The War That Saved My Life

bradley_war that saved my lifestar2 The War That Saved My Life
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Intermediate   Dial   316 pp.
1/15   978-0-8037-4081-5   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-101-63780-7   $10.99

Ten-year-old Ada has suffered almost unimaginable deprivation and abuse due to an unrepaired clubfoot: she has never been outside her squalid London flat; she’s hit, underfed, belittled, and locked inside a dark cupboard whenever she disobeys her cruel, ignorant mam. Ada can’t walk (scooting around on all fours; shades of L’Enfant sauvage), can’t read or write, and relies on her younger brother Jamie entirely for her limited exposure to the world. So when — with World War II imminent and bombs expected to fall on London — Jamie is slated to be evacuated to the countryside, Ada determines to escape the prison of her life and go with him. The siblings are placed with a reluctant guardian, Miss Susan Smith, a self-declared “not a nice person” mourning the death of the woman she lived with (and clearly loved). The remainder of the novel is an involving, poignant, nuanced portrait of healing and rebuilding, focusing on Ada but encompassing Susan’s recovery as well. The plot at times stretches credulity — spunky Ada nabs a Nazi spy — but the emotional content feels completely true, especially in the recognition of how deeply Ada has been damaged and just how far her journey will be to both physical and mental health. This is a feel-good story, but an earned one; and though there are echoes of such classics as Magorian’s Goodnight, Mr. Tom (rev. 6/82) and Bauden’s Carrie’s War (rev. 6/73), this is distinct and powerful in its own right.

From the January/February 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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