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The War that Saved My Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 8, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Bradley turns her keen historical eye from Monticello (Jefferson's Sons, Penguin, 2011) to the British home front during World War II. Ada isn't exactly sure how old she is; for as long as she can remember, she's been a virtual prisoner in her mother's third floor one-room apartment. She was born with a clubfoot and her mother uses her disability as an excuse to abuse her both emotionally and physically. Ada watches the world through the narrow confines of the apartment window, waves to neighbors in the street, and carefully gauges the danger of being beaten during each encounter with her hateful mother. She envies the freedom of her little brother, Jamie, who goes to school and generally roves the neighborhood at will. When her mother prepares to ship Jamie out to the countryside with other children being evacuated from London, Ada sneaks out with him. When the two fail to be chosen by any villagers, the woman in charge forces Susan Smith, a recluse, to take them in. Though Susan is reluctant and insists that she knows nothing about caring for children, she does so diligently and is baffled by the girl's fearful flinching anytime Ada makes a mistake. Though uneducated, Ada is intensely observant and quick to learn. Readers will ache for her as she misreads cues and pushes Susan away even though she yearns to be enfolded in a hug. There is much to like here-Ada's engaging voice, the vivid setting, the humor, the heartbreak, but most of all the tenacious will to survive exhibited by Ada and the villagers who grow to love and accept her.—Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJ
A Newbery Honor Book
Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle School)
Winner of the Josette Frank Award
Wall Street Journal Best Children's Books of 2015
New York Public Library's 100 Books for Reading and Sharing
Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best Books 2015
Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2015
Kirkus Best Books of 2015
Horn Book Fanfare Book 2015
"Achingly lovely . . . Nuanced and emotionally acute, this vivid tale from the wartime home front will have readers ages 10-14 wincing at Ada's stumbles and rejoicing to the point of tears in her victories."—The Wall Street Journal
* “Ada's voice is brisk and honest; her dawning realizations are made all the more poignant for their simplicity. . . . Things come to an explosive head, metaphorically and literally. Ignorance and abuse are brought to light, as are the healing powers of care, respect and love. Set against a backdrop of war and sacrifice, Ada's personal fight for freedom and ultimate triumph are cause for celebration.”—Kirkus, starred review
* "Proving that her courage and compassion carry far more power than her disability, Ada earns self-respect, emerges a hero, and learns the meaning of home."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "Involving, poignant, nuanced . . . This is a feel-good story, but an earned one . . . distinct and powerful in its own right."—The Horn Book, starred review
"There is much to like here—Ada's engaging voice, the vivid setting, the humor, the heartbreak, but most of all the tenacious will to survive."—School Library Journal
"The home-front realities of WWII, as well as Ada’s realistic anger and fear, come to life in Bradley’s affecting and austerely told story, and readers will cheer for steadfast Ada as she triumphs over despair."—Booklist
"Skillful, smooth . . . Ada's tough journey from brokenness to healing is poignantly credible in its development and emotionally satisfying outcome. . . . The feel-good appeal of the rescue fantasy combines with the increasingly tense World War II backdrop to make this an effective page-turner."—BCCB
“Expertly operating on many different levels, this exquisitely written novel incorporates themes of self-discovery and self-worth, strength of family, the power of love, and the many different kinds of courage. . . . Heart-lifting.”—Joy Fleishhacker for School Library Journal
"An astounding novel. Will you cry and rejoice and hold your breath? Absolutely. Will you find the book as exciting, wise, and profound as I did? Yes. This book is remarkable."—Karen Cushman, author of Newbery Medal winner The Midwife's Apprentice
"A moving story with an authentic voice. Beautifully told."—Patricia MacLachlan, author of Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall
"I love Ada's bold heart, keen wit, and amazingly fresh point of view. Her story's riveting. I was with her every step of the way."—Sheila Turnage, author of Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky
"In Ada's small war lies our large hope that love cannot, will not, be overcome. I read this novel in two big gulps."—Gary D. Schmidt, author of National Book Award finalist Okay for Now
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Ada is ten and as far as she can tell she's never been outdoors. Never felt the sun on her face. Never seen grass. Born with a twisted foot her mother considers her an abomination and her own personal shame. So when the chance comes for Ada to join her fellow child evacuees, including her little brother Jamie, out of the city during WWII she leaps at the chance. Escaping to the English countryside, the two are foisted upon a woman named Susan who declares herself to be "not nice" from the start. Under her care the siblings grow and change. Ada discovers Susan's pony and is determined from the get-go to ride it. And as the war progresses and things grow dire, she finds that the most dangerous thing isn't the bombs or the war itself. It's hope. And it's got her number.
I may have mentioned it before, but the word that kept coming to mind as I read this book was "satisfying". There's something enormously rewarding about this title. I think a lot of the credit rests on the very premise. When a deserving kid receives deserving gifts, it releases all kinds of pleasant endorphins in the brain of he reader. It feels like justice, multiple times over. We're sympathetic to Ava from the start, but I don't know that I started to really like her until she had to grapple with the enormity of Susan's sharp-edged kindness. As an author, Bradley has the unenviable job of making a character like Ada realistic, suffering real post-traumatic stress in the midst of a war, and then in time realistically stronger. This isn't merely a story where the main character has to learn and grow and change. She has this enormous task of making Ava strong in every possible way after a lifetime of systematic, often horrific, abuse. And she has to do so realistically. No deus ex machina. No sudden conversion out of the blue. That she pulls it off is astounding. Honestly it made me want to reread the book several times over, if only to figure out how she managed to display Ada's anger and shock in the face of kindness with such aplomb. For me, it was the little lines that conveyed it best. Sentences like the one Ada says after the first birthday she has ever celebrated: "I had so much. I felt so sad." It's not a flashy thing to say. Just true.
You can see the appeal of writing characters like Ada and Jamie. Kids who have so little experience with the wider world that they don't know a church from a bank or vice versa. The danger with having a character ignorant in this way is that they'll only serve to annoy the reader. Or, perhaps worse, their inability to comprehend simple everyday objects and ideas will strike readers as funny or something to be mocked. Here, Bradley has some advantages over other books that might utilize this technique. For one thing, by placing this book in the past Ada is able to explain to child readers historical facts without stating facts that would be obvious to her or resorting to long bouts of exposition. By the same token, child readers can also pity Ada for not understanding stuff that they already do (banks, church, etc.).
Ms. Bradley has written on her blog that, "I don't write in dialect, for several reasons, but I try to write dialogue in a way that suggests dialect." American born (Indiana, to be specific) she has set her novel in historical England (Kent) where any number of accents might be on display. She could have peppered the book with words that tried to replicate the sounds of Ada's London accent or Susan's Oxford educated one. Instead, Ms. Bradley is cleverer than that. As she says, she merely suggests dialect. One of the characters, a Mr. Grimes, says things like "Aye" and ends his sentences with words like "like". But it doesn't feel forced or fake. Just mere hints of an accent that would allow a reader to pick it up or ignore it, however they preferred.
Basically what we have here is "Anne of Green Gables" without quite so much whimsy. And in spite of the presence of a pony, this is not a cutesy pie book. Instead, it's a story about a girl who fights like a demon against hope. She fights it with tooth and claw and nail and just about any weapon she can find. If her life has taught her anything it's that hope can destroy you faster than abuse. In this light Susan's kindness is a danger unlike anything she's ever encountered before. Ms. Bradley does a stellar job of bringing to life this struggle in Ada and in inflaming a similar struggle in the hearts of her young readers. You root for Ada. You want her to be happy. Yet, at the same time, you don't want your heart to be broken any more than Ada does. Do you hope for her future then? You do. Because this is a children's book and hope, in whatever form it ultimately takes, is the name of the game. Ms. Bradley understands that and in "The War That Saved My Life" she manages to concoct a real delight out of a story that in less capable hands would have been a painful read. This book I would hand to my depression-averse younger self. It's fun. It's exciting. It's one-of-a-kind.
For ages 9-12.
I'm not entirely sure why this is considered a kid's book, other than it's told from the perspective of a 10-year-old. I enjoyed it just as I would if it had been targeted to adults.
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