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The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved My Life is a historical fiction taking place in London and the English countryside. 10-year-old Ada watches the world from her window. She has a clubfoot and her mother is too embarrassed to let her leave their apartment, even to go to the bathroom down the hall. But Ada is determined. She painfully teaches herself to stand and walk when her mother is out of the house. Ada is not allowed to go to school, and she has to do all the chores. When her mother decides to send her little brother, Jamie, with the other city kids to the countryside to avoid potential bombing in WWII, Ada runs away with him to avoid danger, have freedom, and take care of the only person she loves. When they arrive at Susan’s house, she at first tries to refuse them. Her longtime friend died and Susan isn’t very good at taking care of herself, let alone two kids. But as Ada gets to know Susan (who doesn’t hit her or call her stupid) and tries to tame Butter, Susan’s horse that Ada wants to ride, Ada discovers what freedom and love is and she is anxious about its precariousness. I love this novel. Not only was the award-winning audio outstanding, the characters are all dynamic and they are as sympathetic as they are flawed. Ada often makes decisions that are not in her best favor and Susan tries her best to correct them in her own way. You come to love the way they work out problems and discover each other. It is emotionally authentic  (she has outbursts when she doesn’t know how to express her emotion, like when she doesn’t know what words mean or when people offer to help her read)  and heart-breaking. I also like that the main character is ability-diverse and yes, she does spend some time being sorry for herself, but she is also determined and does not base her life on what she is told she can or can’t do. I think the novel is a great lesson in perseverance and learning to stand up for yourself even against people you thought you could trust. The pace is leisurely but definitely not too slow, especially with the character-driven storyline. The tone is emotional and bleak but ultimately optimistic, moving beyond despair. The writing style is engaging and candid (like when Susan continually repeats, “I’m not going to hit you!”). Despite covering a sensitive topic, the book is considerately written and handles the subject with respect. The well-crafted dialogue is the cherry on top.

Read-alikes: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, One For the Murphy’s (same author), Waiting For Norma l by Leslie Connor, The Little Ships by Louise Borden, Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford, The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett, My Family For the War by Anne Voorhoeve

*spoiler alert* The best part is the stark contrast of who Ada was versus who she is now when she is reunited with her mother.