Children’s

The War That Saved My Life

Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley
  • Review
By – March 8, 2018

The year is 1939 and World War II is rag­ing. Ada lives with her younger broth­er, Jamie, and Mam, her abu­sive moth­er, in a Lon­don flat. Ada was born with a club­foot and Mam fre­quent­ly insults and mis­treats her, keep­ing her trapped in their dingy apart­ment. Ada’s only inter­ac­tions with the out­side world occur through the sliv­er she can view from the apart­ment window.

As the war wors­ens, chil­dren are sent to stay with fam­i­lies in the coun­try­side. Mam for­bids Ada to go, insist­ing that nobody will want her; but on the day Jamie is set to leave, Ada escapes with him. The unkempt and mal­nour­ished sib­lings strug­gle to find place­ment but are ulti­mate­ly sent to live with a woman named Susan Smith. Susan is grap­pling with a deep grief of her own, and is ini­tial­ly hes­i­tant about car­ing for chil­dren. How­ev­er, the three soon forge an incred­i­ble bond. Susan helps Ada learn to read, sews her cloth­ing, and most strik­ing­ly, hopes to arrange an oper­a­tion for her foot. At times, Ada does not know what to make of this kind­ness, often react­ing inappropriately.

Ada begins to expe­ri­ence a life she nev­er imag­ined — she starts car­ing for a horse, But­ter, con­nects to neigh­bors in the vil­lage, and makes a best friend, the wealthy Mag­gie Thor­ton. Yet, Ada is nagged by the feel­ing that this is all tem­po­rary, and soon, Mam’s return threat­ens her new­found sta­bil­i­ty. Although there is no Jew­ish con­tent in this beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book, there is a sub­stan­tial focus on World War II.

The War I Final­ly Won, the sequel to The War That Saved My Life, picks up where the first book end­ed. Now in the per­ma­nent care of Susan Smith, Ada final­ly receives foot surgery, paid for by the Thor­ton fam­i­ly. Short­ly there­after, Ada and her broth­er Jamie learn that their Mam has died. Susan’s house has been destroyed, so the three move into a small cot­tage on the Thor­ton family’s estate. 

As the war rages on, the new­ly formed fam­i­ly takes in Ruth, a young Ger­man Jew­ish refugee. Ini­tial­ly, Ada is hes­i­tant to befriend Ruth; because she’s Ger­man, Ada assumes she’s an ene­my. How­ev­er, as Ruth’s sto­ry unfolds, the two devel­op a kin­ship, bond­ing over their chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances and love of hors­es. Over the course of the sto­ry, Ada real­izes the pow­er of adver­si­ty, and as the war pro­gress­es, comes to ques­tion reli­gion, mor­tal­i­ty, and truth.

Kim­ber­ly Brubak­er Bradley’s por­tray­al of war-torn Eng­land is vivid, and includes his­tor­i­cal details about every­thing from food rations to black­out cur­tains and bomb shel­ters. Despite the heav­ier top­ics here (con­cen­tra­tion camps, death, war), young read­ers will appre­ci­ate Ada’s authen­tic­i­ty, growth, and tri­umphs. The series is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for read­ers ages 8 to 12.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

Discussion Questions