Year of Publication: 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction (Middle Grade)
Format (How I Read It): Paperback
An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.
Ten-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.
Themes: The family you choose is just as real and valid as the family you’re born into. It’s okay to put your trust in those that love you. You can do anything you set your mind to. It’s okay to accept help from others. Honesty is the best policy, but sometimes lies are necessary. You’re capable of much more than you think you are.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said, after a pause. “I don’t want to tell you a lie, and I don’t know the truth.”
It was maybe the most honest thing anyone had ever said to me.
Character Development: I absolutely adored the characters in this story (except for the biological mother who was detestable). Ada, the main character, was nuanced and complex and yet still completely relatable for young readers. I loved reading along as she faced new situations and grew both intellectually and emotionally in every scene. I also really loved Susan, the woman she ended up staying with when the children were shipped out of London due to bomb threats. She was so patient with the traumatized children that she was unexpectedly tasked with taking care of. Her background was also nuanced and I loved the juxtaposition of her and Ada’s mental health struggles.
I wanted to say a lot of things, but, as usual, I didn’t have the words for the thoughts inside my head.
Plot/Pacing: This story is exciting; it balances great character development with a suspenseful story about war. I also loved how each chapter ended with a cliffhanger that made it really difficult to put the book down. It made it a fast-paced and emotionally resonant read.
After that it was easy. It was the most impossible thing I’d ever done, but it was also easy. I held on to Jamie, and I kept moving forward.
Writing Style: I sometimes struggle with middle grade historical fiction, but this one was really well done. There were lots of vocabulary words that would likely be new for young readers, but they were written into the story well because Ada didn’t know a lot of vocabulary either, so the definitions and/or context clues were incorporated naturally into the story. And the historical context was also really well done since Ada and her brother didn’t know much about the war, so when it was explained to them by adult characters it also served as a clear and engaging explanation for young readers as well.
“Victory,” she said, “means peace.”
Emotional Investment: High.
Somehow Christmas was making me feel jumpy inside. All this talk about being together and being happy and celebrating – it felt threatening. Like I shouldn’t be part of it. Like I wasn’t allowed. And Susan wanted me to be happy, which was scarier still.
Windows and Mirrors: WWII. Child abuse. Physical disabilities. London/England. Adopted/chosen family. Wartime. Sibling relationship.
“I don’t want to just survive.”
Overall Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. I don’t normally read the sequels of the middle grade books that I pick up, but I’m really tempted to read the next book in this series. It’s just a great story for readers of any age. The themes are beautiful, the characters are well-written, and it’s a unique perspective on a well-known time in history. There was nothing I didn’t like about this book.
Recommendation: I can’t wait to do this one as a read-aloud with my students! I’ve been looking for a good historical fiction book to do as a read-aloud, and I think this one will be perfect. I teach 6th grade, but I think this could be good for 3rd/4th grade and up. The only minor concern I had about doing it as a read-aloud is language: the word “hell” comes up about three times, and the word “slut” comes up once. However, you could easily censor these while reading it aloud if you wanted, or not depending on your class or your approach to read-alouds. My other recommendation would be to use it for vocabulary lessons about how readers use context clues to figure out unknown words. There are several excerpts that could be pulled from this that show the different kinds of context clues that authors deliberately put into their writing. This would also be a great model for historical fiction if you’re doing a genre study, and it would be fantastic for novel studies/book clubs as well. And, of course, I also just highly recommend this for pleasure reading. It’s a great book that belongs in any classroom or home library!
Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!