The War that Saved My Life & The War I Finally Won

These two books really read as one. They might be in separate volumes, and the first might have an effective resolution, but the story of the second carries on so seamlessly from the first, you might just as well be reading one book.

They revolve around Ada, an 11-year-old girl with a club foot who’s never been allowed to leave her bedroom in a London slum. She can’t leave because her mother detests the sight of her daughter’s deformity and has convinced Ada that everyone else will detest it too. But then WW2 breaks out and she and her little brother are evacuated to the countryside.

Ada can’t read or write. She’s never been to school. She doesn’t even know what a cow is. Or grass. She’s also stubborn, suspicious, bad-tempered and downright difficult. But you like her. You like her because she’s also brave and fiercely loyal to her little brother. And because, as the books progress, she changes.

She learns to ride a horse. She learns to read and write. She learns – ever, ever so haltingly – to trust people. That’s the secret of the books’ power: the way they chart Ada’s slow, hard change from uneducated, mistreated slum-dweller to a young girl who can accept – and return – the love and friendship of others.

And though they’re children’s books, don’t be fooled into thinking they’re sweet and sappy. The hard reality of the war is never forgotten and it is not skated over. Lives are altered. Homes are destroyed. People you like are killed. It is indeed a war that first saves Ada, and then one she finally wins.

These are two excellent stories.

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