A dramatic title, and boy does it fit! This is bestselling author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's first Newbery Honor book, but I bet it will not be her last. I was hooked from the first page, and I could hardly put it down until I had read the whole thing. The War That Saved My Life is WWII historical fiction for middle school readers, but adults will also find this to be a great story with enough depth to satisfy a more mature reader.
The story is set in England, at the cusp of Germany's air attack on that country. But Ada is hardly aware of what is going on outside her small room and little window, which is her only view and knowledge of the world. That and what she finds out from her little brother Jamie, who is allowed to go outside for school and to play and explore. But not Ada. She has a clubfoot, and her mother is ashamed for anyone to see her and so keeps her confined. But it becomes obvious that the mother is also sadistic and cruel, and there is no way for Ada to escape from her abusive life. Not until Jamie comes home with the news that London's children are being evacuated to the country. Without their mother's knowledge, the siblings manage to slip onto the train with the other evacuees and start a new life.
It is not that easy to move into a new life, especially with the burdens and trauma Ada has already suffered, and the home they move into is not especially welcoming at first. Susan, their new "foster mother" has more than enough of her own distractions and sadness to have a lot to give to the children. But they gradually work their ways into each other's hearts. Ada's clubfoot has always defined her, and indeed, it continues to loom as a large presence in her life, but her spirit heals and grows in the setting of kindness, respect, accomplishments, and... Ponies! The horses are moved into the story so naturally that it never feels like a horsey-girl genre book, but it will please any horse-loving girl reader.
I like both character-driven books and plot-driven books. This one handles both, each without the expense of the other. And 316 pages give the author a nice amount of time to round both Ada and Susan's characters in satisfying ways. I found the final scene with Ada and her mother a bit abrupt, and I had to ask myself if it were as believable as the rest of the story. If it were my story, I would be saying, OK, I'm near the end of this story, and I need a way to resolve it right now, so I'll write it this way. But the very end is rewarding and heart-warming.
If you read Goodnight, Mr. Tom by Michelle Migorian, you will see a lot of similarities, however, Mr. Tom was told more from the old man's point of view, and The War is from the girl's view and thoughts, and I believe at a reading level more accessible to younger readers. Be aware though, that there are several disturbing images, some descriptions of the war, and the cruelty of her mother. So very young readers, while at the reading skill level, may not be at the maturity level to read it.
I bought this book from Amazon.