The War That Saved My Life

the war that saved my lifeI find myself reading through the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award List for this year, and I’m so pleased I made this decision. Most states have these lists, this is the list of books educators and librarians form Illinois want kids to read this year. It’s geared towards older elementary-middle school-aged children. I never would have chosen this book on my own. Not because the premise isn’t interesting to me (it’s set during WWII in Great Britain, ad the protagonist is a  girl with a club foot), but because I generally don’t like historical fiction. It pains me to say it because, as a librarian, aren’t I supposed to like everything? I don’t. But I really enjoyed this book.

Ada has a club foot. Her Mam doesn’t want the neighbors to know about her daughter’s deficiencies, and so has forbidden her to leave the house. When she “misbehaves,” her Mam shuts her in a cupboard under the sink where cockroaches and rats like to crawl on her because it’s so damp. Ada’s brother Jamie is six, and given their socioeconomic standing in combination with his age, has no concept of why his sister is treated the way she is. When the children are sent out of London because of the threat of air raids, Ada and Jamie run away in the night and join the other children at the train station. Hours later, they’re in a station in Kent where Ada realizes, to her embarrassment, that they’re the dirtiest children there. Nobody volunteers to take them in.

The children are brought to a woman who lives alone in a large house, who’s “friend” Rebecca has recently died. She’s depressed and doesn’t believe she has any right to take care of children. Slowly, they start to heal each other’s emotional wounds. Susan, the children’s caretaker, has a good understanding of psychology as she seems to know how to calm Ada down when she gets truly upset.

While this story is historical fiction, this book’s sucker-punch was how the children overcame their mother’s abuse. After years of telling the neighbors that her daughter was too stupid to leave the house (I’m paraphrasing here. The words used were not the kind I’d like to repeat) they were finally in the custody of a loving adult. There are real life children who went through that kind of abuse then and now, whether because people were too poor to afford treatment for physical handicaps or because they didn’t understand them well enough. This story has a happy ending of acceptance and friendship for the children, as many of the true victims of abuse don’t.

Has anyone else out there read this book? If you haven’t, would you based on his review?

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