The War I Finally Won | Abuse, Trauma, and War Disguised as a Children’s Story

Earlier this year I had the awesome opportunity to take a course totally dedicated to the study of YA lit. Besides learning how important YA lit is, I read a whole bunch of incredible books in a shorter period of time than I previously thought possible. One of the best books out of the 25 that I read was The War That Saved My Life. It was so good, in fact, that I knew I needed to read the sequel before I even finished the book. Well friends, I finally got around to it!

Now, to catch you up with no spoilers, The War That Saved My Life is the story of Ada, a young girl who never leaves her small flat because of her clubfoot. Her mother is incredibly abusive and she grows up thinking that she’s useless and unlovable because of her deformity. But when WWII comes and Ada’s brother is about to be evacuated, she decides she needs to take care of him. So she teaches herself to walk, runs away, and finds a totally different life in the country.

The sequel to this wonderful book, The War I Finally Won, begins with Ada about to go into surgery to correct her clubfoot, so of course I was crying by page 20. It doesn’t matter that I almost never cry while reading books. This one was enough to get me there within a few chapters. Let me tell you why.

Bradley’s ability to tell a story of abuse, trauma, and the mental illness that all too often follows is just amazing. She makes it so real. So believable. So here you have this little girl, eleven years old, who has been treated like garbage her whole life. She barely got enough food to survive and believes that she doesn’t deserve any better. And then her life changes. But things aren’t that easy. Abuse isn’t just left behind when it finally stops. It’s something that victims will carry with them through the rest of their lives.

Although the mental aspects of Ada’s experiences are never officially diagnosed, it’s pretty clear that she suffers from PTSD and anxiety. She has her own coping mechanisms where she escapes inside her head, even though that’s not exactly healthy. But through her journey she learns to recognize triggers, cope in a healthy way, and face fears.

Beyond this realistic portrayal, which is definitely enough to make a book amazing, Bradley manages to make The War I Finally Won even better with her parallelism between WWII and Ada’s internal war, her attention to detail in setting and historical circumstance, and the age-appropriate voice she uses for Ada.

Seriously guys. One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to children’s, middle-grade, and YA lit is kids who don’t act or speak their age. So if I say someone does it well, that’s a pretty big compliment.

And Bradley completely deserves all this praise I’m giving her. As I read the book I didn’t find a single thing I would correct or change. Which is more big praise coming from me. This story is enlightening, inspiring, and just plain amazing. Want to know more about the effects of abuse? Read it. Ready to learn more about WWII? Read it. Looking for a good example of parallelism? Accurate voice? Storytelling technique? Read it. Read it. And read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommend: Middle-grade to adult readers who enjoy historical fiction or reading about mental illness or abuse.

Cleanliness: Some brief violence but not remotely graphic.

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