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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The War That Saved My Life, written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2015. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"On crutches I didn't need a taxi, so we walked right down the main street. I walked down the street, bad foot and all, and nobody stopped me. We went into the shops and bought meat and veg and groceries. I went into the shops and nobody turned me out."

In another war story for today, we meet Ada who has never spent a minute outside the family's third-story apartment. Her mother will not allow it; she is ashamed of her daughter and her twisted foot. Ada sits at the window and waves to others, and longs to change the circumstance that keeps her trapped inside and crawling wherever she wants to go in the drab one-room living space.

Once she understands that only she can change how she moves about, she deals with the daily agony of learning to walk despite her twisted foot. She keeps this from her mother. When talk turns to the children in London being sent to the country to keep them safe from Hitler's bombs, her mother has no intention of letting Ada leave:

"What about me?" My voice came out smaller than I liked. "Am I going? What about me?"
Mam still didn't look at me. "Course not. They're sending kids to live with nice people. Who'd want you? Nobody, that's who. Nice people don't want to book at that foot."
"I could stay with nasty people," I said. "Wouldn't be any different than living here."

We learn in quick time that the resilience Ada shows in learning to walk is only the beginning of a fight for a better life for her and for her little brother, Jamie. They escape, without their mother's permission, to the safety of the train taking them away from London. A woman with no children, and no wish to have any or knowledge about caring for them, reluctantly takes them in. Crutches help Ada navigate the farm and its surroundings. Finding a horse that is rarely ridden, and learning to ride it is just one more obstacle she faces with grit and determination. It takes time; reluctantly, Ada accepts that Susan cares for them and is giving them a good life. There is so much for the two to discover in the safety of this new home.

Ada's first person narrative lends humanity to the people she meets, tenacity to the many troubles that must be faced, honor to the power of community and love. Her resolve is heightened knowing that there are those who will love her unconditionally,  and that makes all the difference.

This story is written beautifully. Ada is a fine and memorable narrator, the setting is realistic and dramatic, the characters are worthy of our admiration. You will not soon forget them!

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