Wednesday, August 31, 2016
The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Sometimes you feel like if you've read one WWII English Evacuee story you've read them all. But this one did not feel like that! Add Ada to this mix. A very special girl born with a clubbed foot tha was never addressed in her infancy. She can only crawl around. Her single mother (her father is dead) never allows her outside. Only her younger brother Jamie (I listened to this as an audio, so I'm not sure if it was spelled traditionally or not) is allowed outside or to go to school. Ada is kept in isolation. She was not supposed to be a refuge, but she loves her brother so much that when he is to be sent away, she decides to go with him.
Some parts of this book were really, really difficult to read. Ada's mother is so incredibly abusive. Both physically and emotionally. She has convinced Ada that she isn't worth anything. That she couldn't be loved. Yet, Ada still has enough self determination to make certain things happen for herself; like what she needed to do in order to evacuate with her brother.
Both children are so ragged that none of the volunteer families chose Ada and Jamie. So the lady in charge takes them to the home of a single lady, Susan, who is still grieving the loss of her best friend and roommate, Becky. She protests saying she's not good with children, that she didn't want children. But everyone must "do their part" so she tries her best. She discovers that these children don't know the simplest things-they've never seen a tablecloth, they've never had bed sheets or dressing gowns. They've never even tried many of the vegetables she has to offer them. She says she's not a nice person, but she IS kind. And Ada finds herself so confused by words she's never heard and doesn't know the meaning of. She wonders that Susan says she's not nice, but they never go to bed hungry and Susan doesn't hit them. In a time and age when child abuse and emotional trauma are not understood, Susan seems to intuit what Ada needs (and doesn't need), when to push and when to pull back, in order for Ada to be able to act like a child and even learn. The thing she tells Ada that takes Ada a while to fully believe is "Your brain is a long way from your foot". Ada has been told that she's stupid and shameful and not able to learn because of her clubbed foot. Susan breaks this notion insisting that her clubbed foot has nothing to do with her capacity to learn and develop academically.
This was a beautiful story of "who saved who"? Did Susan save Ada? Yes. Did Ada save Susan (from her grief and solitude and withdrawn ways)? Yes. We can save ourselves when we reach out to help one another.