Monday, 5 August 2019

The War That Saved my Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.
Junior Fiction.
          It is 1939 and war has been declared between Germany and Great Britain.  Ada Smith and her brother Jamie live in one room above a pub in London with their mother;  Mam works in the pub, Jamie is school-age, and Ava goes nowhere.  She has a crippled foot and can’t put any weight on it – she crawls everywhere in the flat and depends on Jamie to bring her news of the outside world because her mother doesn’t want her near the window;  she doesn’t want people to see ‘the idiot cripple peering out’.  Mam is always in a bad mood, and when she is feeling particularly hateful she locks Ada in a cabinet under the sink, which is infested with cockroaches. 
            Life is very hard but it becomes intolerable when Ada learns that her beloved brother is to be evacuated to a place called ‘the country’ to escape the bombs that Hitler’s Messerschmidts will surely drop:  to be left behind without him is unthinkable – she will go too, and to that end practises walking on her poor deformed foot, an agonising process but practice that serves her well when the day comes and she escapes with Jamie and his classmates to the train station.  The trip is a revelation:  Ada has never seen grass, let alone trees – the greenness of everything astounds her, as does the vastness of her surroundings, and when they arrive at a small village in Kent which is to be their destination, there are even more shocks in store:  everyone looks so clean and wholesome – well-nourished.  Which she and Jamie are not.  Eventually, as the last children left, they are forced onto a lady who did NOT want to billet children:  Susan, a woman who had lost her beloved companion Rebecca to illness and is still sorely grieving. 
            The children don’t care:  they are still together, Susan gives them a bath and hot food, and they sleep in a warm bed with sheets on it!  And behind a stone wall at the bottom of the garden is a friendly pony called Butter!  Ada, who has never learned to read or write, finds that she is not ‘slow’ or an idiot after all when Susan persuades her to learn her letters so that she can help Jamie with his homework;  she even teaches herself to ride Butter even though her foot won’t always cooperate, but best of all is the news that her foot (clubfoot, it’s called) can be fixed!  If Susan can get her mother’s consent.
            And there lies the problem:  Susan’s letters are returned;  Mam remains out of sight – until she returns one day and takes Ada and Jamie back to London to another squalid room ‘because I ain’t paying nineteen shillin’s a week to no lazy slut in a fancy house to look after my kids!’
            Then the bombing starts.
Ms Bradley has given us a wonderful brother and sister to cheer for:  narrator Ada’s journey from stupid cripple to resourceful and clever problem solver is a delight to read. This lovely story is a superb  introduction for children aged 12+ to the extraordinary bravery shown by ordinary people in the face of terrible adversity.  SIX STARS!!      

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