[The War That Saved My Life]: A Review

Hi y’all!

I’m excited to share my review of The War That Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley. I have heard rave reviews of this book for a while and finally picked it up at a bookstore while on vacation. It’s a beautiful story and a very well deserved Newbery Honor book!

Initial Thoughts:

  • I bought this book on our anniversary while in California last month at a little bookshop in Balboa. It was so charming.
  • I disagree quite strongly with the winner of the Newbery Award for 2016 (when this novel received a Newbery Honor. I haven’t read all the Honor books for that year, but I can say that this book is far superior to the picture book that won the Newbery Medal in 2016. However, the other two Honor books (a graphic novel about junior high roller derbies and a novel with 4 independent story lines that all converge in the end) sound far superior to an oversimplified picture book about a boy riding the bus with his grandma. I was so disappointed in that selection that I didn’t write a review here, just a short one on Goodreads. Anyways, off my soapbox. Reading this novel makes me intrigued to read more Newbery Honor books and compare them to winners.

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The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells the story of Ada and her experience in WWII. Goodreads summarizes, “Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him. So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

The main characters are beautifully developed, especially Ada and Susan. Ada’s background and determination to learn so many new skills is incredible. My heart broke for her early in the story and I cheered for her to overcome her past to find love and belonging. I loved how she trained Butter and when she helps the wounded soldiers in the pub. Susan is a great character because we see so much change in her. She begins as a prickly, unwelcoming woman but changes into the kind, maternal figure these children deseperately needed. I love when she gives the kids a proper Christmas and when she defends Jamie for using his left hand in school. I loved Jaime too. He is just so sweet and innocent. I love his bond with that ridiculous cat and how much he loves Ada. The bond the three of them develop is heartwarming. I especially loved the way literature brought them together as Susan read Swiss Family Robinson, Alice in Wonderland and other books to them.

This book is very beautifully written. The way we learn pieces about Ada and her life are poignant and inspiring. I am impressed by the way Bradley gives us so many intense, scary moments (including abuse, wartime bombings and experiences helping wounded soldiers) without them being overwhelming. These are hard things to read about. Often, I find books dealing with these subjects (especially all of them together) to be a bit too intense. But throughout this novel there is also hope and joy and love. While I would say this is a book for older kids (ages 9 or 10+), it is definitely worthwhile for the way it shows the power of love to overcome many trials.

I enjoy WWII literature and this was especially neat because it gave me a new perspective on this time period. This is set in a location I haven’t read much about–outside London but still in England. Descriptions of the airfield, barbed wire beaches, catching the spy (one of my favorite moments!!), and rationing were so interesting to read about. Surprisingly, most of the evacuated children return to London before the Blitz even happens. I hadn’t thought about many of these details or how they would affect everyday life.

**More ending spoilers than usual coming your way!

If I have one qualm about this story it would be the ending. After so many well developed scenes that had little intense action, we get so many action sequences all at at once. Suddenly Ada and Jamie are in the very first night of the Blitz in London AND Susan’s house is bombed? Seemed a bit much for me. I would have preferred not to have them go back to London. Being reunited with their mother is not essential to the story moving forward. I was so relieved when Ada and Jamie are reunited with Susan at the end. And I think I would like to read the sequel.

Overall, I think this is a lovely novel. The themes are dark at times but the hope and love are also inspiring. A well deserved Newbery Honor winner!

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What are some of your favorite WWII middle grade fiction novels?
Any favorite Newbery Honor books?

2 thoughts on “[The War That Saved My Life]: A Review

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