The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Thrilling and lovely, heart-wrenching and funny, charming and readable and truly a book that you won't want to put down!
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781925355642

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Ada has a club foot, and she has spent all of her life hidden away in her mother's flat in London, used and abused by her mother who is ashamed of Ada, and angry with her. Told that she is worthless, a monster, Ada is left to crawl around the flat on her hands and knees. She tries, secretly, to use her foot to walk and it leaves her bleeding and in agony, but when Ada's little brother, Jamie, tells Ada that he is to be sent away, evacuated by the school because of the war Ada knows she must find a way to leave with him, and to escape her mother at all costs. The two children manage to escape to the country, yet find themselves left unchosen on arrival in the new village. They are foisted upon a single lady, Susan, who declares she does not want any evacuees, and that she is not a nice person. Has Ada gone from one nightmare situation straight into another?

This book was one of those stories that I wished I'd been able to read when I was nine or ten. I loved reading it now aged, well, never mind how old I am! But I could imagine how it would have gripped me as a young girl, and how I would have immediately read it over again, and kept it close to my bed for repeat readings. I worried initially that as it was written by an American but set in England that there would be dreadful fumblings of dialect and incorrect vocabulary throughout, but just a few pages in I forgot all about the author and just found myself caught up in a real page-turner. Ada is magnificent. Sometimes she was dreadful, and I cringed at her grumpiness and her impolite retorts, finding her a little unlikeable. Yet I understood where she was coming from, and how dreadfully damaged she was after years of abuse from her mother, and what was interesting was that she, as a character, didn't see that for herself. Of course, having spent her whole life being told she was worthless and that her foot could never be fixed, she believed it and knew of no alternative, and having been shown no love by her mother, she struggled to accept care from others when it was offered. There were moments in the story that broke my heart, moments so desperately sad, and so very real, and I felt Ada's pain, both emotional and physical, because it is so well captured, and so believable.

The story is uplifting, in a very powerful way. There are so many thoughts and ideas within it about family, and what that means and where a family comes from, and about the transformative power of love, exhibited not just in the changes Ada experiences, but also in how Susan changes as she takes care of Ada and Jamie and grows to love and understand them. On meeting Susan we learn that she previously had 'a good friend', Becky, who had died, and this has left her bereft, lonely, and struggling with depression. Her story is also moving as we watch her face her depressed periods when the children are there with her, and we see how they all begin to deal with each other's broken histories. There is one moment, when Ada simply cannot take the emotion any more, and she suffers a sort of episode, screaming and thrashing out and unable to control herself. I cried myself as I read of how Susan wraps her up, tight, so she can't hurt herself or anyone else, and then just holds her, tight, all night. But even with all this sadness and emotions running high, there are lots of moments of humour throughout the story, as well as elements of adventure, with Ada teaching herself how to ride Becky's old pony, gaining freedom from her crippled foot as she rides across the countryside. I used to be a big fan of horse stories way back when, so I also enjoyed this aspect of the story. There's enough horsiness to make you feel like getting a pair of jodhpurs on, but not so much that it would be off-putting for those who would rather sit down to start a new session on Minecraft.

It felt true historically, and gives a good flavour of this period of history, making it good to read along during World War 2 studies. Yet really, with all it's wonderful themes and facts and ideas what is most important is that it is a good story. It's a story with heart. It's a story with brilliant characters. It's a story about a little girl being brave and strong and continuing to be brave and strong, even in the face of the most dreadful adversity. And it's a story about love, the importance of love, and how gentle, understanding and loyal love can surmount any difficulties and change people's lives forever. Highly recommended.

Further reading suggestion: You might also like to try Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo or Wheels of War by Sally Prue. We also have a review of the next book in the series.

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Buy The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley at


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