By Anna, 14 April 2018
“There was a Before Dunkirk version of me and an After Dunkirk version. The After Dunkirk version was stronger, less afraid. It had been awful, but I hadn’t quit. I had persisted. In battle I had won.” – Ada
In The War That Saved My Life, the main character is a ten-year-old girl called Ada who lived with her little brother Jamie and their cruel mother.
Ada’s cruel mother is too embarrassed about Ada’s clubfoot. When the war comes, Jamie is sent away to the countryside to escape the war like other children, and Ada sneaks out to join him. Ada and Jamie are given to a woman named Susan Smith. When she’s with Susan, Ada learns to read, write, walk and ride a pony. Ada still doesn’t want to get used to life in the country with Susan, because she knows that Susan would only be temporary and they would have to go back to their cruel mother after the war.
I liked this book because the story it tells gives readers an idea about how life was like during World War Two from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl. It tells readers that they should be lucky that they know their real birthdays, as Ada and Jamie didn’t know theirs. It also tells readers how hard it is, like Ada, to live with a disability.
POSTSCRIPT: What Mum Thought
The War that Saved My Life does not embellish, nor does it attempt to downplay, the horrific abuse that Ada suffers at the hands of her mother. The beatings, the starvation, the confinements in the dank, cockroach-infested cabinet under the sink, all of these events are plainly described. The question that is asked again and again throughout the book, both by its characters and by the reader, is Why? Why is Ada’s mother behaving in such an abhorrent way when Ada’s only fault appears to be her misshapen foot? There are hints towards the end of the story, but not enough to rationally explain Mam’s callous behaviour towards her own biological children.
Perhaps that is the point. Sometimes, human beings are mean, evil or hateful, because they like being mean, evil or hateful. Sometimes, the only way to survive is to get out of their way.
For ages 9 and up.