Reviewed by Tammie Benham
I’ve been reading my way through the Mark Twain nominees. There are several excellent selections this year. The book that has made the biggest impression so far has been, The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.
This story of human resilience in the face of the adversity demonstrates what that determination can change the course of a human life.
Ada cannot remember ever leaving the one-bedroom apartment where she lives with her younger brother, Jamie and her mother. She isn’t sure of her age and her mother refuses to tell her. Her best guess is she’s less than ten years old.
Crippled with a club foot and her mother’s shame, Ada’s life consists of constant emotional and physical abuse and neglect until one day when news of the evacuation of children from London reaches her. Although her fear is more of a life lived from a chair beside a window than impending bombing, Ada uses this opportunity to escape the only life she’s known.
When the children arrive in the country they find themselves being selected by families to be fostered. Ada is so filthy that she doesn’t recognize herself when she looks into a bathroom mirror and Jamie is no better. They are left out of the selection process. However, the local gentry organizing foster families refuses to give up on Ada and Jamie, taking them to a house in the country where Ada falls in love with a horse at first sight.
The woman who grudgingly takes in the children is named Susan and she is grieving a great loss. She is bullied into doing her duty to take care of the children and shows them what she believes to be a minimal amount of attention. Having been neglected for so long, the children flourish in the little attention they receive.
Susan glimpses the past lives of the children in some of their odd behavior but understands she cannot get Ada the operation she needs on her club foot without the permission of Ada’s mother. However, her letters to the children’s mother go unanswered and war comes to the village.
When Ada’s mother finally shows up at Susan’s house she is quick to point out the only reason she’s there is because she’s being forced to pay for the upkeep of her children if they stay in the country. How will Ada and Jamie ever go back to living the life they once escaped?
Based on actual events during WWII, this work of historical fiction is a 2016 Newbery Honor Book and a 2016 Schneider Family Book Award Winner.