Book Review: The War That Saved My Life

Mei Aguon, Reporter

This story is about a girl named Ada and her brother Jamie, which takes place first in London, England in 1939. Parents are sending their children to the countryside for fear of bombing from Germany. Ada, who was born with a clubfoot, is abused by her mother, who blames her for her condition. She is forever forbidden to leave her flat, but she sneaks away anyway one night with Jamie and the rest of the child evacuees and gets placed into a home with a rich, lonely woman named Susan Smith. With a new and reluctant guardian, they must adjust to life, and Ada must get used to her freedom and come to terms with her trauma, all under the looming threat of war.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s way of telling historical fiction is lovely. She spares no detail and explains the historical aspects in a clear way that is  easy for people unfamiliar with the subject to understand, but not as if the reader is being talked down to. It is also wonderful to see Ada warm up to her new life, and allow herself to be happy and safe. Ada is an immensely likable child character, and so is her brother. The way they are written is realistic and helps immerse the reader in the story. 

The book accomplishes its goal of making the reader feel like they are really alongside the characters in that time period. Its second effect might have been unintentional: exploring the impact that emotional and physical abuse have on children, well interwoven into the story. Though, it is not graphic. Ada often compares the war in Europe with the war she has with herself, and her mother. She is not explicitly stated to have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, but the reader might infer that from how she describes her responses and memories about “Mam.” Good thing is, Ada has support and love from the new adult in her life.

The chapters are told in flashback from an older Ada, but they can be considered chronological, following her throughout the year she spends at Susan’s in the countryside as the war unfolds and becomes more “real” to the main characters. It is medium-paced; you could probably finish it in a day. There is also a sequel called The War I Finally Won. I advise people who like this book to check out Brubaker Bradley’s other titles.