A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The War That Saved My Life, which was named a 2016 Newbery Honor book, is a standout coming-of-age story set in the English countryside during World War II. Wartime brings new, scary things into the characters' lives, from bomb shelters and destroyed homes to the plane crashes that kill the pilots at the nearby air base. Far more troubling, especially to sensitive readers, is the character of Ada and Jamie's abusive mother, who regularly smacks the kids around and has kept Ada, born with a clubfoot, locked up in one room her whole life -- and who hangs ominously in the background when the kids land in the country, where they experience care and kindness for the first time in their lives. Kids and adults will cheer for Ada as she discovers she has value and learns to stand up for herself -- but will her mother take the kids back and destroy it all? There's lots of historical detail about World War II in England, from the evacuation of kids to the countryside to details about British military planes.
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What's the story?
In London just before World War II, Ada doesn't know how old she is, her last name, or much of anything of life outside the room where her mother has kept her in terrible conditions for as long as she can remember. Ada's mother is humiliated at the thought of people knowing she has a disabled daughter (Ada was born with a clubfoot and gets around by crawling), so Ada has no dealings with other people, except to wave from her window. Her younger brother, Jamie, who's about to start school, is more mobile and sometimes steals food for his starving sister. Their mother beats them both regularly and often doesn't give them enough to eat. Suddenly, as World War II and a possible German invasion loom, the kids are evacuated to the countryside, where they're so filthy and lice-infested that nobody wants them. When a reclusive local spinster is forced to take them in, their lives change in unimaginable ways, including having clean clothes and regular meals. Also, there's a pony. As the kids experience love and kindness for the first time in their lives and learn to pitch in with the war effort, Ada can't get away from her biggest terror: that their new happiness will last only until their mother finds it more convenient to take them back to their old life.
Is it any good?
In lesser hands than those of Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, the plot might tumble into cliché, but thanks to Ada's unforgettable character and unflinching voice, you're too busy cheering her on. She comes into her own as she experiences a world she's never imagined. A cynic, even a young one, might note in passing that THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE includes elements we've seen many times before: Lives change when a reclusive curmudgeon takes in waifs; a pony transforms a troubled girl's life; brave Brits rise to the occasion in wartime. But they're artfully woven into the story.
You'll also share the anxiety that gives Ada bigger panic attacks the better her life gets, because it's all going to be snatched away. She explains to her new friend that she doesn't want her guardian, Susan, to help her, because "I don't want to get used to her. She's just someone we have to stay with for a little while. She's not, you know, actually real."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about World War II. Do you have family members who lived in that time? What were their experiences?
Why do you think stories about a young protagonist's life-changing relationship with a horse are so popular? What others have you read or seen as movies? How does Ada's relationship with Butter in particular compare with other stories you know?
If something happened in your community so all the kids were being sent away to a safer place, how would you feel? Would you be happy to get to safety, or would you do your best to figure out a way to stay home?
- Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Great Girl Role Models, History, Horses and Farm Animals, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dial
- Publication date: February 2, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Awards: ALA Best and Notable Books, Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: February 22, 2021
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