Prather’s Pick: ‘The War I Finally Won’ a brilliant novel for young adults
This week’s historical novel, intended for the young adult reader, is brilliant. “The War I Finally Won,” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, completes the story that began with “The War that Saved My Life,” a novel for which Bradley received the prestigious Newbery Honor. Though well-researched, the novels are historical fiction.
The setting for both novels is England during World War II. The central character is Ada, a young girl who hasn’t had an easy life. She was born with a foot that was twisted at the ankle, so much so that the ankle bones curled, and the bottom of her foot faced upwards. Despite her clubfoot, however, Ada taught herself to walk, a painful and bloody process.
Ada’s mother (Mam) wasn’t a nurturing woman. She called Ada “damaged and deranged.” When children were being evacuated to London to avoid the German bombings, Mam decided to send Jamie, Ada’s six-year-old brother — but not Ada. Ada, however, having taught herself to walk, was able to sneak into the group of children.
Once the children got off the train in London, they were lined up by Lady Thorton, the head-of-the-WVS voice, who said she was going to make arrangements for village families to take them in. Nobody wanted Ada and Jamie, so Lady Thorton took them to live with Susan.
Susan lived in a house given to her by a friend, Becky, who died of pneumonia before the war. Becky also gave her a pony named Butter that lived in a pasture behind the house. Ada loved Butter.
One day, Mam returned to collect the children, but they were happy with Susan, and she felt the same way. So Susan decided to get guardianship of the children. While they were in London, there was a bombing, and Susan’s house was destroyed. (Butter survived.)
All this was in the first novel. “The War I Finally Won” begins on Sept. 16, 1940, when 11-year-old Ada is in the hospital awaiting surgery to rearrange the bones in her ankle so she will finally have a new foot. The surgery is being paid for by Lady Thorton, who has also given Susan and the children a five-bedroom cottage. It’s located near the mansion owned by Lord and Lady Thorton. (Lord Thorton is away working for the war.)
After a few weeks in the hospital, Ada is able to wear a shoe on her new foot, and the three of them and Jamie’s cat, Bovril, move into the cottage. Butter is a short distance away. But then, Lady Thorton comes to move in with them. The mansion has been taken over for the war effort. To make things even more tense, Lord Thorton brings a 16-year-old Jewish girl, Ruth, to live there, too, so Susan can tutor her in math in preparation for college entry exams.
The book accurately captures the thoughts of an 11-year-old who doesn’t understand the meanings of words like “arrangements.” When Mam dies and Susan talks about arrangements, Ada jumps to the conclusion that Susan will be making arrangements for her and Jamie to live elsewhere. Ada realizes that, with her mother’s death, she isn’t a daughter anymore, but who is she? She refuses to think of Susan as a mother or even an aunt. There is a war going on within Ada, as well.
This is a superb novel. It is published by Dial Books for Young Readers (2018) and costs $16.99 in hardcover. The book is also shelved with juvenile (J) books in the new book section at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries.
On a cool autumn afternoon in 1914 Hayden, a human being was seen occupying space previously reserved for only birds, clouds and celestial bodies. It was a monumental occasion — one that shook the very fiber of reality for the people of Northwest Colorado.