I have never met a historical fiction book about World War II that I won't read. It's a topic that I will always find fascinating and never tire of reading about or learning about. There are so many different stories to be told about the war, from so many different sides and points of view. When The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley came on my radar, I immediately requested it at my library and as luck would have it, there were no prior holds on the few copies out there.
I'm writing about this book because I want every single person I know, and even those I don't know, to read this book. I honestly cannot imagine anyone not enjoying this story. And to further convince you, The War That Saved My Life is a young-reader (middle grade) book, so it's a quick read, but worth every minute that it does take you.
The War That Saved My Life is the story of Ada, a ten year old English girl and her six year old brother, Jamie. Or, at least that's how old we think they are, as neither of them have ever celebrated a birthday before and don't even know what day they were born on.
Ada and Jamie live with their mother, in London, in a one room apartment above the pub their mom works at. Ada was born with a club foot (although she doesn't know there's an actual diagnosis for her disability) and her mother has treated Ada as a cripple, with utter disgust, disrespect and embarrassment, since the day she was born. Ada has never stepped outside the walls of their apartment, she doesn't know how to walk, and she's often the victim of her mother's abuse, both verbal and physical. Her world is tiny and the only thing that gives her purpose is taking care of Jamie.
As the war becomes more serious, children in the town are being sent away by train to live in the country, away from Hitler's war and imminent danger. Ada's mom, forever ashamed of her "condition", only intends to send Jamie away, telling Ada that no one would want her with her ugly foot. But Ada has other plans, and without their mother knowing, Ada sneaks off with Jamie early in the morning, and makes it on to the train with him.
The world that they are met with comes as quite the culture shock. They aren't used to kindness, baths, clean clothes, full stomachs or an adult that won't hit them when they disobey. This new life with Susan, their caregiver, presents them with new opportunities and experiences, and opens up their whole little world. Imagine Ada's bewilderment when she discovers that her club foot is nothing to be ashamed of and no reason to be locked up for: "your foot's a long way from your brain". But despite all this, Ada and Jamie can't fully accept their new situation as surely it will be ripped away from them as soon as the war is over. The inner turmoil that Ada struggles with over accepting their new situation and not taking things for granted was so well done.
The War That Saved My Life is heartbreaking, heartwarming, sad, funny, hopeful and also a bit scary. I felt every single emotion immensely. How will Ada and Jamie adapt to their new life with Susan if they can't fully trust her? What will happen when the war ends? Will Ada's and Jamie's mom ever come look for them, and what will she do if she does?
I don't think I can fully express, in words, the effect this book had on me. I couldn't put it down, and when I had to, I couldn't wait to get back to it. Ada, and Jamie, and Susan were such real people to me, people I wanted to reach through the pages and hug and then have a cup of tea with. I still think about them and it's been several days since I read the last pages.
I have read my share of historical fiction books on World War II, and I can honestly say that this one is in the running for my all-time favourite. I beg of you, make this a book you read too. I promise you won't be disappointed.
Do you enjoy reading historical fiction?
What's your favourite book on WWII?