Great Illustrated Books

The War That Saved My Life

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Puffin Books
Pages : 352 Pages
Suggested Ages: 9-12
ISBN: 9780147510488

When Kimberly Brubaker Bradley won a plethora of awards (including a Newbery Honor and a Schneider Award) for this 2016 middle-grade smash hit, I knew I needed to add it to my pile, although I am ashamed to say it took me far longer to get to it than it should have. Having devoured this fantastic read in nearly a single sitting, I regret more than ever waiting to experience this wonderful novel.

This beautiful piece of historical fiction is set against the backdrop of World War II as young and disabled Ada is kept locked away from the world, due to her mother's embarrassment over her "twisted" foot. The disability has never affected Ada's morale - what truly sets her back from her peers and the outside world are the social insecurities of her exceedingly cruel mother. 

Her brother, Jamie, is shipped off to the countryside in order to escape the oncoming onslaught of the war, and Ada takes it upon herself to escape along with him, against her mother's wishes. A London woman is forced to take in the two children, and slowly they become a family unit, strengthened by their differences, though challenged by the specter of war right outside their window. 

This book is, first of all, incredibly well written, and the reader will feel close to Ada, celebrating her victories and moved to tears at her inevitable hardships. Though this is a middle grade/young adult title, it treats its reader as a mature onlooker and raises larger questions of emotional abuse, parenting, trauma, and even PTSD. Though these are, obviously, mature topics, I was impressed by the author's skillful entry into these topics by concentrating on Ada and her brother's experiences and reaction to the challenges of the plot as a jumping off point for parents and kids to discuss those choices, as opposed to bringing up the topics outright or forcing them onto a reader that potentially might not be ready. Through these characters, we feel these themes - they are not presented outright like other, lesser middle grade titles. 

This is also a wonderful introduction for a young reader on the topic of war, not unlike Number the Stars before it. Child victims/evacuees is an under-serviced piece of history on one of the most greedily dissected wars in all of historical fiction, and I welcomed a novel with a point of view as fascinating as this one. In the end, this character-driven drama made me laugh, cry, and cheer, but I also learned a lot. Other than somewhat rough language, I absolutely recommend this novel for the middle-grade reader on the cusp of becoming a YA reader, or a more mature reader, as this book offers a story unlike anything I have ever read before. 

Reviewed by : Lawrence N. Caldwell

Themes : Family
Found Family

If you love this book, then try:

The War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Critics have said

*Newbery Honor Book*
"Achingly lovely... nuanced and emotionally acute, this vivid tale from the wartime home front will have readers aged 10-14 wincing at Ada's stumbles and rejoicing to the point of tears in her victories." - The Wall Street Journal