Recent Reading: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Bradley

This is a straight historical MG story, not necessary something that would appeal to those who mostly read secondary-world SFF. I don’t recall where I picked it up, but it has been on my physical TBR shelves for ages, it’s short, and I guess I was in the mood for a MG story that I was pretty sure had a happy ending.

Ten-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, The War That Saved My Life is enormously touching. Watching Ada adjust to the remarkably different life in the village is quite something. “This is a needle. See, it has a hole at this end for thread to go through, and this other end is pointy so you can stick it through cloth . . .”

I enjoyed it very much and I’m glad I picked it up. For a MG reader, it’s probably a great choice, at least if that particular younger reader likes history and/or overcoming-bad-childhood stories.

Good things that an adult reader might notice:

Wow, is it obvious that Ada is suffering from PTSD. Not by that name, which is appropriate because of the historical setting.

Ditto for Susan, who is obviously clinically depressed.

Ada, Jamie, and Susan are all well-drawn, with realistic problems stemming from their lives, that are handled well and with subtlety and without bashing the reader over the head with them. I mean, Susan and her deceased friend were pretty clearly in a lesbian relationship, but the author never quite says so and the children certainly don’t realize this, which is fine because Susan would certainly never have discussed anything of the kind with children.

Less-great things that an adult reader might notice:

a. Susan is pretty amazingly good at handling Jamie and Ada, considering her lack of experience with children. But some people probably do just have a knack. I thought this was handled in a believable-enough way, but I can see that some adult readers might raise a skeptical eyebrow.

b. The plot has a couple of unbelievable twists, including a too-pat ending. I didn’t notice this until after I finished the book, though, because I had no problem suspending disbelief while reading the story.

c. The mother is probably too evil.

I’m pretty sure that none of this would bother most young readers, though. All those concerns are things that, it seems to me, might strike an adult reader but not readers of the intended age demographic. Also, I personally found the story highly engaging regardless.

Plus, I read the whole thing in one evening after basically vaporizing my brain by spending the entire day making PowerPoints over evolutionary theory. This story was just about perfect for an evening where I could not have enjoyed anything as complex as, say, Pyramids of London.

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2 thoughts on “Recent Reading: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Bradley”

  1. hmm. I thought I left a comment last night… Oh well, reconstructing: i looked at this, due to your recommendation, and it’s a good story. Reading as an adult I noticed that Ada’s narrative didn’t support her actual deprived life, but it wasn’t horribly jarring, whereas a truly deprived POV probably would have been. The mother was a type and way of thinking that is familiar from fiction,
    so, willing to go with it for the story. Susan Smith read as too depressed to make much fuss, which is exactly what the kids needed, so their growing relationship worked.

    Where it fell down for me was in social/cultural stuff. There were repeated bits where something grated, whether it was “call me Susan”, instead of insisting on being addressed as ‘miss’. or the use of ‘okay’, … the author didn’t seem to really understand the culture – or speech and class distinctions – of the time. Not that I really do, but I’ve read enough Godden, Sharp, Goudge, Garner (I think I’m still missing class plot threads in The Owl Service.) that not getting it right jars, even if I can’t pinpoint everything that is wrong.

    Still it’s a good, accessible story for the target age group.

  2. Elaine, your comment made me notice that I was unhappy with the “call me Susan” thing, which at the time I read past without really thinking about it, but yes, that’s pretty out-of-tune.

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