A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Plenty of details about England in the early days of World War II come to life as the characters experience them: blackout curtains, food rationing, the phrase "loose lips sink ships."
Strong messages of love, friendship, self-respect, family, courage. Also, learning from your mistakes and doing better.
Positive Role Models
Ada is both believable and heroic as she grapples with her terrors, learns to accept kindness, shows her value -- and has fun for the first time in her life. In an early scene, Ada's 6-year-old brother, Jamie, steals food from a local shop because Ada's starving. Adult characters Susan Smith, who reluctantly takes in Ada and Jamie, and Lady Thorton, who spearheads many wartime relief efforts, provide the kids a safe, life-changing place to land, even when they're dealing with fears and losses of their own. Other supporting characters, notably Fred Grimes, the stableman at Lady Thorton's place, show Ada kindness and teach her valuable lessons on everything from manners to pony care.
Violence & Scariness
It's wartime, so violence is a big part of the story: planes crash, pilots die, and some civilians perish in bombings as others huddle in shelters. Descriptions of what's going on are clear but not gory and more compelling for their matter-of-factness and the resolution with which the characters keep going. In one scene, Ada, who's gone to help with wounded soldiers from Dunkirk, hastily leaves the room when she realizes the older women are cleaning up men who've lost control of their bowels. The most harrowing violence comes from Ada's mother, who beats and starves her children and keeps them in foul conditions. Also, a teacher thinks left-handedness is a sign of the devil and forces a left-handed kid to write with his right hand by tying up his left.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
There are a few discreet hints that Susan's late friend Becky, with whom she shared a house, also was her romantic partner, but it's never stated explicitly.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Kids and adults occasionally say "bloody," which, it's made clear, is a more serious profanity in British English than in American. An adult calls another adult a "lazy slut."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
Jamie names a cat Bovril, after the British food product he and Ada are fed daily.
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.
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."
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.