It is very difficult for me to find the right words to portray my feelings towards these two books: The War That Saved My Life and its sequel, The War I Finally Won. Originally published for ‘young readers’, the minute you read the first page you will understand this story is meant for any set of eyes in any stage of life. I cannot stress enough how beneficial, endearing and earth shattering these stories are. You absolutely need these books occupying your shelves. Truthfully, if you don’t enjoy these as much as I do I don’t know if we can be friends….. kidding. Kind of. 🙂
Since I’m doing something new and different by reviewing two books in one review, I’m going to structure this post differently, as well. If you choose to only read one of my reviews, please read this one. Please! You’ll see why.
SYNOPSIS: THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE
The War That Saved My Life literally stopped my heart, shattered it, then gently put together each piece one by one. Holy cow. I devoured this book in one day; I simply could not stop reading. Young siblings Ada and Jamie live in a tiny, treacherous apartment along a poor and destitute street in London with their mother. Jamie explores the outdoors, plays with his friends and attends school like most normal seven year olds, but Ada has never experienced scenery beyond the decrepit apartment and the window she is permitted to look through. She was born with a club foot that left her unable to walk at all. Because of this, she is hated by her deplorable mother. She finds Ada embarrassing, disgusting and pointless – and she has no problem telling her so. Ada is physically and mentally abused, starved, and shoved in the moldy and damp cabinet under the sink. Often withheld from basic necessities such as a toilet, hair brush, and water, Ada is convinced that this is the life an ugly girl like herself deserves.
In order to escape the war that the Germans have declared, Jamie and Ada along with hundreds of other children, are shipped out of London to seek safer living conditions. Susan Smith, the only adult who will agree to take both children, opens her home to Ada and Jamie and cares for them as best she can, given their horrendous physical condition: she feeds and bathes them, seeks out proper medical care, purchases new and clean clothes and reassures them both that they are safe.
Living with Susan is an adjustment for both children, but especially for Ada whom has had no proper education nor any inkling to the outside world. Simple words such as “surgery” or “thoughtful” are incomprehensible to them and Ada finds herself confused, angry and misunderstood. Skeptical of Susan’s intentions, Ada expects her dreary life to continue in Susan’s home; unable to go outside, starved, forced to use a bucket as the bathroom, etc. When Susan makes it clear, over and over, that Ada is encouraged to live a normal life full of love and happiness, she is unable to imagine a life so luxurious.
A story told in the most tender and warm ways, we see the glorious transformation as Ada slowly comes to terms with the reality she wants and deserves. We watch both she and Jamie open up and accept Susan as a caregiver, a motherly figure, and something deeper. We see life through Ada’s perspective; innocent, simple, and unfair. Susan is far from perfect, living with her own demons and grief, nor are Ada and Jamie but their weaknesses and wrongdoings lead them to one small yet enormous realization: they saved one another.
SYNOPSIS: THE WAR I FINALLY WON
The War I Finally Won is the perfect sequel and ending to Ada’s journey. The war continues on and things seem to be getting worse for London. While the outside world seems to be falling apart, Ada’s is slowly piecing together. Susan received approval, as her legal guardian, to move forward with corrective surgery to fix Ada’s club foot. Now Ada can walk as a normal person without cutting and tearing her foot with each step. But more importantly, she can finally ride Butter like normal girls, her beloved pony gifted to her by Susan.
One morning, a young girl named Ruth with dark hair and eyes is dropped off and told she is to live with Jamie, Ada and Susan while Susan tutors her in math. The catch? She is German. Skeptical that Ruth may be a spy, Ada’s defense mechanism’s are in full throttle , as her trust for anybody is extremely scarce. Barely opening up to Susan, refusing to call her Mom or say “I love you”, Ada has demons of her own she is trying to fight.
The battle between Hitler and the rest of the world may be in full force, but the war between Ada and herself is stronger. Trying to adjust to her new life that albeit during a war, is full of love and happiness, is something that is extremely difficult.
As the war prolongs and Ruth becomes a tenant of their home, we begin to see Ada come out on top of her own war. Showing us what it takes to survive among her war-ridden mind and a disheveled London, she is the perfect example of grit and hard work. She may not be perfect, nor is Jamie or Susan, but their life together is worth fighting for.
WHY I LOVED ‘EM + WHY SHOULD READ ‘EM, LOVE ‘EM, BUY ‘EM, SHELVE ‘EM
Oh my, oh my. How can I put into words my love for these two novels? To start, this was some damn good writing (excuse my French). To write books geared towards young readers that also resonate even deeper with adults of all ages is true talent.
There were so many elements that touched my heart in these two books: the historical fiction element and the fact that it told a story beyond what is typical of a WWII read, the characters whom were so realistically flawed and perfect at the same time, and the sensitivity to speak on fragile topics and bring to light a fresh perspective on life.
For me, the characters absolutely drove these books home. Ada is perfect. She is damaged and skeptical and critical of life and people and she is cynical, most of the time. Yet she is warm and motherly and endearing in every way possible. Tied with Lillian Boxfish, Ada is my favorite fictional character. Of all time.
She is fearful of the unknown, uneducated and broken. She spent nearly eleven years of her life living in a box with a mother who told her she was worthless and disgusting every day of her life. Because of her club foot, which was through no fault of Ada’s, she felt as if the starvation, beatings and isolation under the sink was fair punishment. Despite how she spent her entire life before Susan’s care, Ada is one of the most tender and motherly characters I’ve ever read. Her need to care for others over herself is unmatched.
She is determined to make others proud and is curious to learn of every little thing her mother deprived her of; basic language, literature, current events, and more. She offers readers a fresh take on life through a completely innocent and simple lens; she helps us take things at face value, nothing more and nothing less and she reminds us that whatever our situation, there is someone, somewhere, whom has it worse.
Susan will sweep you off of your feet and her huge heart and love for Jamie and Ada will bring you to tears. Her patience, kindness and understanding are virtues to be sincerely envious of, even if she is a fictional character.
I cannot say enough positive and loving things about these two books. And I cannot begin to explain how important they are to me. I am forever thankful to my gal Lindsey [@bringmybooks on Instagram] who introduced me to Ada, Jamie and Susan.
If you want a book that will move you to pieces and capture your soul in the most riveting of ways, you’ve found them.