I am pleased to announced that I finished another of this year’s Newberys last night–only one to go! (Yes, I know it’s August.) To be honest, I likely would have read it sooner if it weren’t so popular; I kept having to return it to the library right as I was wanting to start it. (Newbery fame usually dies down in a few months, but this book was popular before it won. It’s still frequently not renewable at the library.) The stars finally aligned, however, and I can stop putting The War that Saved my Life on hold over and over again. Wahoo!
And what did I think of it, you ask? (Apart from the fact that finishing it right before bed after a worrisome few days about one thing and another resulted in a fairly impressive nightmare?) I have to say, it was impressive. This isn’t your average WWII story and Ada isn’t your average heroine; she has an untreated clubfoot and uses the evacuation of London’s children to the countryside at the start of the war to escape the abusive mother who keeps her confined in their one-room flat. She and her brother Jamie end up with Susan Smith, a single woman grieving the death of the friend with whom she lived. (Her life decisions and the extent of her grief imply a very close friendship, but that’s not actually the focus of the book.) She doesn’t want to be responsible for children, but the billeting officer insists–and so Ada’s life begins to change. As she and Jamie learn what it is to be clean, well-fed, and comfortably housed for the first time in their lives, Ada’s perception of herself begins to shift. It takes time for her to seriously question what her mother has always told her about herself and her journey is often difficult, but the novel’s conclusion is wholly satisfying.
I will say that I might have preferred the dialogue to sound more England-in-the-early-years-of-the-war than it did, but that ended up being a minor irritation. The author’s portrayal of Ada, moreover, was terribly impressive. I lost count of the number of times I ended up telling myself, “NO, you wouldn’t have acted that way, and that’s not a natural way for a normal child to act, but given Ada’s life thus far, it makes perfect sense for HER to act this way.” Bottom line? Brubaker Bradley’s writing style wasn’t a perfect fit for me, but in the end, it didn’t really matter. This is a story you don’t want to miss.