Monday 30 October 2017

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The war that saved my life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial Books, 2015)

46 chapters; 316 pages

Subjects: World War Two, London, evacuees, family, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

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I’ve always been fascinated by stories about World War Two evacuees, as it’s not part of the New Zealand war story at all. This author takes a different approach. The main character Ada is already damaged by a childhood of emotional and physical abuse by her mother, who seems to hate Ada for her disability (a clubfoot, which could have been easily fixed) and never lets her go outside. (The local children, who only ever see her waving from their window, think she is simple, not disabled.)

Ada is about ten years old, although she doesn’t know for sure. Despite being kept indoors for her whole life, she is smart and determined, and she gets her chance when her little brother Jamie comes home from school and announces that they are being sent to the country because of the war. Ada manages to escape to the train with him and as nobody else wants the two of them, they are reluctantly taken into the home of a childless woman, Susan Smith.

WW2 forms a backdrop to the story, with the neighbouring airfield and the danger of spies, and it provides several important plot points, especially at the end. The book traces the developing relationship between Ada and Susan, but also Ada’s growing sense of her own self-worth, which has been almost destroyed by her mother’s treatment of her.

Because she has lived such a restricted life up until now, Ada has never been to school, and can’t read or write.  The fact that she doesn’t know what everyday things like shops or banks are, or the meaning of many common words, is potentially tricky for a writer but Kimberly Bradley handles the challenge very skilfully.

This is a memorable story and I especially liked Susan as a character. Her life story is only hinted at, never fully described, but enough is hinted at to make it understandable, at least for older readers.      

I didn’t find Ada’s mother quite as convincing. She was so utterly malevolent that she seemed less believable, although the scene when Jamie finally realised the truth about her (which he had always been shielded from before) is very sad.

There are many glowing reviews of this book, such as this one on NZBookgirl
Kidsreads calls it “an unforgettable gripping story, one that is not only earmarked to be an award-winning novel, but also has the potential of becoming an all-time classic.”
The School Library Journal describes it as “Anne of Green Gables without quite so much whimsy” in which “hope, in whatever form it ultimately takes, is the name of the game.” “Enormously satisfying and fun to read, Bradley takes a work of historical fiction and gives the whole premise of WWII evacuees a kick in the pants.”
And this from Kirkus Reviews: Set against a backdrop of war and sacrifice, Ada’s personal fight for freedom and ultimate triumph are cause for celebration.”
You can also find lesson plans here

About the author
You can find Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's website here
In this review on book reporter, she describes how she was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, studied chemistry at college and married her high school sweetheart, and now lives on a 52-acre farm, with ponies, dogs, cats, sheep, goats, and lots and lots of trees in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.

Other books you might like:
Other books about evacuees include: Lord of the nutcracker men by Iain Lawrence, When the siren wailed by Noel Streatfeild, Ronnie’s war by Bernard Ashley, The dolphin crossing by Jill Paton Walsh, Carrie’s war by Nina Bawden and Uprooted: a Canadian war story by Lynne Reid Banks.

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

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