The War that Saved My Life
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Read by: Jayne Entwistle
Listening Library, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Family,
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ada lives in London with her mother and younger brother Jamie. She isn't allowed to leave her apartment because her mother is too ashamed for people to see Ada and her twisted foot. Ada must sit at the window and watch her brother play. When Jamie comes home from school and announces that all the children are going to the school the next day and the teachers are taking them out of the city because of the coming war, Ada's mother laughs and tells them they aren't going--especially not Ada. But Ada makes sure that she and Jamie go, traveling out of London to the country where families await to take in children until the threat of war and bombs has passed. Jamie and Ada end up Susan, who has no interest in children and doesn't have any idea what to do with them. Grieving for a lost friend, Susan does her best for Ada and Jamie, taking Ada to a doctor for the first time and giving both her and Jamie a safe place. For the first time, Ada realizes that she might have more to give back than she ever knew before, but what will happen when their mother comes to collect them? If she comes to collect them.
This was a wonderful performance by Jayne Entwistle that really brought all the characters to life. Ada is strong and smart and although she has never been to school before, she can figure things out pretty quickly and read people. She understands how the world works even though her first ten years were spent away from the rest of the world. It doesn't take her very long to realize that her mother's claims that she was stupid and unable to attend school were wrong. It also doesn't take her very long to realize that although Susan is being nice to them, she doesn't have to be nice to them and can change her mind at any minute.
A major part of this story is Ada's discovery of horses and riding. Susan owns a pony, left there by her recently departed friend and Ada teaches herself how to ride the horse, making friends with neighbors who give her more help and advice in caring for her new horse. It's this relationship that allows Ada to grow the most.
I loved that Ada, someone who is physically disabled, shows how strong and capable she is. She isn't completely aware of this at first, but when she makes up her mind to leave and to learn to ride the horse, it comes through. This is a point the author is making and Ada is never seen as someone is weak (even at the beginning when she isn't allowed to leave her apartment).
Susan's character is a bit difficult to figure out. When we first meet her, she is being forced to take in Ada and Jamie. It reminded me a bit of Bedknobs and Broomsticks when Angela Lansbury is indignant about taking in Carrie and Paul. She does it, but doesn't like and is somewhat vocal about it. Susan is not magical, of course, but it reminded me of this. Perhaps because it has the same setting where children were evacuated from cities during World War II but I continued to picture Susan as Angela Lansbury.
Susan seems to battle with bouts of depression that she sinks into less and less as the story progresses and her relationship with Ada and Jamie grows. It's difficult to understand why she seems like such an outsider in her town when we first meet her--whether it's her own choice after Becky, her friend and roommate, died, or if there was more to it. Becky was so often referred to, but we never really found out more about her. Neighbors referred to her as the "other one" or the "nice one," making it seem like they were outsiders even before. I assumed they were partners and their relationship was quietly looked down upon, leaving Susan to feel ostracized by her community. It's never explained, though, and I wanted to know more about Becky. I wanted Susan to tell Ada and Jamie stories about her--whatever their relationship to one another was--and to feel that she had come to terms with Becky's death. That never happened, though.
This is a great book for middle school reader and adults alike. It's about family--not the family you're born with, but the family you find along the way. It's about becoming yourself and accepting who you are. I highly recommend it!