I am excited to share my review of The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This novel is the sequel to one of my favorite Newbery Honor books: The War that Saved my Life. I think that novel deserved to win the Newbery Medal in 2016 instead of Last Stop on Market Street (don’t get me started on that award winner).
Anyways, I have seen this sequel at the library and bookstores for a while now. But I finally picked it up at one of our favorite local bookstores in August. I was excited to get back into Ada’s story and hear about her life with Susan and brother Jamie.
- I was a bit surprised that this story picks up the narrative right after the first book finishes. We are still in the midst of WWII and the difficult circumstances of the people in the UK–even after the Blitz. I haven’t read too much about this time and I found the historical context difficult and fascinating.
According to Goodreads, “Ada and her younger brother, Jamie, now have a permanent home with their loving legal guardian, Susan Smith. Although Jamie adapts more easily, Ada still struggles with the aftermath of her old life, and how to fit into her new life.
World War II continues, and forces the small community to come together and rely on one another. Ada has never been interested in getting to know her friend’s family—especially Maggie’s mother, the formidable Lady Thorton. However, circumstances bring them in close proximity along with other unexpected characters.
Ada comes face to face with another German! This time she isn’t sure what she should do. How can she help the ones she loves and keep them safe?”
This novel offers such a haunting look at life during WWII for those at home. I learned a lot about the life of the people living in fear of what war would do to those they love. The images are compelling and evocative of the experiences on the British home front. Bradley poignantly describes food shortages and grounds used to grow potatoes and other crops by the government, the perils of firewatching, Jonathan’s visits home from the front, waiting for telegrams at home at and school, people killed in action and in bombings. I appreciate WWII literature because it shows us courage and faith in times of darkness and war. But there are also so many haunting experiences that they also show that remind us the cost of such fighting. Bradley’s balance of the two in this book is brilliant.
I wished Ada wasn’t so angsty with everyone but loved that Ada’s foot is fixed for good. And I was surprised how easily it was done. What a hard thing to work through mentally that she could have been healed as an infant instead of experiencing the abuse and pain. Regardless, Ada’s journey to forgive herself and overcome her past–especially judging herself by her foot–is beautifully done. Ada is not a perfect person. Sometimes she drove me crazy because she is so rude and standoffish to everyone even those who love her. She has a lot of hard memories and instincts from her abusive past. But she is able to find peace and love in the present which is really beautiful. A lot of that comes from her relationship with Susan. Love Susan’s strength and the way she takes care of Ada and sometimes steps back to let Ada take care of herself. For a woman with no husband, children, or relationship with her parents, she has a lot of wisdom about raising kids.
The relationship between Ada and Ruth is fascinating. While Ada has complex relationships with nearly everyone she knows from Susan to Lady Thornton to Jamie, this one stood out to me. Ruth is the German born Jewish student that comes to study with Susan in preparation for taking a job working for the British in the war. Ruth and Ada are both outcasts of different sorts. I was shocked how rude Lady Thornton is to Ruth and how much she judges her for her nationality even though she is Jewish. It’s crazy that people didn’t know about the genocide of the Jews during the war. But I loved the simple way Ada saw Ruth as a person who needed a friend. The ways they connect over horses and their differing family situations is beautiful.
The ending felt like it left a lot of the story unresolved which I didn’t like. I would have liked an epilogue a bit later in time rather than a few weeks. Perhaps giving us a glimpse of life after the war. I felt like there were a lot of loose ends. What happens to Stephen White? What exactly was Susan’s relationship with Becky? How do the Thorntons continue to heal? Do they move back into their house? What do Ada, Susan, and Jamie do after the war? Perhaps we will get another book one day to sort through a few more answers.
Overall, this was a really nice sequel to the Newbery Honor book. Haunting, beautiful, hopeful, and tragic. Another great novel!
What is your favorite WWII novel?