Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2015)
Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.
I really loved this book. I am generally a fan of historical fiction (especially when it is a children’s author- I feel like those books are often done so well), and I needed a redemption for Manhattan Beach. Bradley certainly did not disappoint.
Poor Ada is shamed into never leaving a dingy, disgusting one room apartment in London, kept there by her mother “Mam.” We learn that it is because Ada was born with what is known as a “clubfoot,” that her mother keeps her locked up. It is so hard not to root for Ada through this whole book. She is actually extremely smart, and capable of many things, which she never would have learned had she not made a break for it when her brother was sent out of the city at the beginning of the war.
I loved the dynamics between the adults in this book. How some looked at Ada and thought the worst of her like Mam did, but also how some were able to see Ada as she really was, not just for her bad foot. I felt like that was an accurate way of portraying adults in that sort of situation.
I really loved Susan. I think that despite her heartache for her “friend” Becky, she made the most of the situation, and ended up coming out of it with way more than she anticipated. She was a good mother-figure to these two (Jamie and Ada), especially considering the living situations that they had previously grown up in. I liked that Ada (and Jamie) were free to do as they pleased, but still maintained some order with rules like baths before bed, dinner together, etc. I liked that Susan read them books, and taught Ada how to do things. She believed that Ada was just as smart and capable as everyone else, and was an advocate for her (Ada) being treated equally from day one.
These three characters leaned heavily on each other. They had bad days, and they had good ones, like a typical family. I especially liked that Susan just handled Ada’s meltdowns, rather than yell at her, or get angry herself about what was going on. “You didn’t want us” was a reoccurring phrase throughout the kids’ stay with Susan, but you could see when things started to change, and even though they continued to reiterate Susan’s original words, by the end, everyone knew they were no longer true, and hadn’t been for a long time.
The ending was slightly devastating, especially for Ada and Jamie. However, the book ended with me wanting more time with these characters. I needed to know more, regardless of the fact that it did tie up rather nicely.
I think this book easily runs along-side powerhouses like Number the Stars and Fever 1793. There is something about war that just draws you into a story, and that may be the case for some people with this book, but I honestly think that it was solid on it’s own.
As with any book I post about, I try to find some perplexing questions from study guides/book discussions to share with those who may have already read, or plan to read this book. Today, these few questions I got from Brightly’s Book Club.
- Freedom is a major theme in this book. Look at page 86 where Miss Smith and Ada talk about the meaning of freedom. Why is freedom important in this story? What does freedom mean to you?
- Describe Miss Smith. How does she empower both Ada and Jamie in different ways? How do Ada and Jamie help her?
- Why was Butter so important to Ada? How did Butter help her learn persistence and confidence? Do you have a pet or a hobby that makes you feel like Ada feels when she rides Butter?
- How did you feel at the end of the story? Which characters do you have empathy for? Who changed the most from the beginning to the end of this story?
- The title of the book seems like a paradox since we often associate war with loss of life. Discuss how this war saved Ada’s life.
I really liked the question about Butter. To be honest, reading through the book I kind of had Butter as a background idea in the story, something that just kinda happened to keep the story moving, with little relevance to the actual plot. Now considering that question, Butter means a bit more than I originally gave him credit for.
On the website, they also ask about what women’s roles were during wartime, which obviously is an important thing to ask but rather minor to my personal interest in the story.
Regardless, this was one of the better books I’ve read so far this year, especially lately. I also noticed that I have read a bunch of war related books this year (more so than normal). Tell me what you think in the comments! Have you read it? Do you plan to? Have you read any other books by Bradley?
I am super excited to start this YA novel. It is actually because of all of you, and your love for this series/book that I decided to pick it up over one I already had in the wings. I look forward to talking about this book with you guys in the near future!
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han