This is the third time I have read The War That Saved My Life and I am acting as if it were the first time. It’s like eating corn chips. I can’t put it down and I can’t do my work, and I keep reading. On the back cover it says, “Puffin Ages 9 and up.” It’s about a damaged girl and her brother, who are evacuated from London at the start of World War II. Get it from the Pine Bush Area Public Library’s Children’s Section. It took the Newbury Honor Award in 2015.
The author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley really knows her business. She has written this book and its sequel, The War I Finally Won, and set them in London and in Kent, England. Ada Smith and her brother Jamie live with their horrid mother in a one-room flat over a pub in the East End of London. Jamie is about age six, and Mam has just started to let him go to school, so he knows that the local children are to be evacuated, because people expect that London will be bombed. Ada determines to go with him to get them both away from Mam. Their mother abuses them and has kept Ada (about age ten) a prisoner inside their one-room flat, all her life. Ada has a club foot, and her mother uses that as an excuse to torment her. She likes to stuff Ada into a cabinet under the sink, and not let her out for hours.
This does not appear in the first few chapters. We learn how miserable Ada’s and Jamie’s lives have been, later, as Ada thinks about this. They escape with the other children to a small village in Kent, on the south coast. No one wants to take Ada and Jamie into their homes. They are dirtier than the other children, and their clothes are ragged. Lady Thorton, in charge of the local Women’s Volunteer Service, foists them off on an unmarried woman with a small cottage—and a field with a pony in it. The pony is the saving grace, as far as Ada is concerned. She does not know what to think about Miss Susan Smith, but she loves her pony, Butter.
Susan Smith is a really decent woman who cares for the kids, and ends up loving them but Ada has never been loved before, and does not recognize it. Ada is damaged in her mind, as well as in her club foot, which could have been repaired easily when she was a baby, if her horrible Mam had ever wanted to bother.
Ada is heroic, although she does not realize this. You watch her struggling with life and you can’t look away. Several small points—she has been kept in one room all her life, and she doesn’t know what grass is. She doesn’t know what the sea is, and Britain is an island! She doesn’t know what love is, either. Things are going to improve, but the war heats up—and then Mam, the horrible Mam, shows up to snatch the children back to London. WHAT NEXT? As I said, it’s like eating corn chips. Pick it up, quick, and gobble down this book.