Book review: The War That Saved My Life

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I recently read both The War That Saved My Life and the sequel The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Both books are about a girl named Ada who has a club foot, lives in a difficult family situation, and has her life changed for the better when she and her brother are evacuated from their London home during World War II. The War That Saved My Life is a Newbery Honor book which is read by middle grade students in many schools. If you have an older adoptee who will be reading it, you should be aware that it could trigger strong feelings in them but it could also be a wonderful platform for discussion.

While these books aren’t about adoption in a way that relates directly to the international adoption experience, I was really struck by how accurately Bradley portrayed trauma through Ada’s choices and reactions. When you are being educated about trauma as an adoptive parent, it’s all very abstract. It’s hard to visualize what this might look like in your life. While Susan, who becomes the caretaker for Ada and her brother, responds in an intuitively connected way that is rather unlikely for the time period, I think that she serves as a wonderful model.

As you read through the books you will find Ada:

  • Reacting instinctively out of fear
  • Displaying food anxiety
  • Disassociating as a coping mechanism
  • Struggling to assimilate into normal life after a deprived upbringing
  • Persisting in her role as primary caregiver to her younger brother
  • Pushing away Susan so she won’t be disappointed by her loss later
  • Experiencing nightmares
  • Being calmed by being wrapped tightly in a blanket
  • Sabotaging birthdays and holidays
  • Benefiting from hippotherapy (riding and caring for horses)
  • Being conflicted about her feelings toward her mother

If you want to learn more about connected parenting for children who have trauma,  I recommend the reading lists compiled by Elizabeth at Ordinary Time and Becky at Full Plate Mom. But after you’ve read the manuals, consider picking up these two as supplemental reading.

2 thoughts on “Book review: The War That Saved My Life

  1. Jill

    We have only read the first book so far (as an audiobook), but I agree that it does a very good job of bringing trauma to life with real examples of the mixed feelings and difficulties that can come. One word of caution- my 5 year old imitated a number of the negative behaviours in spite of our discussions about trauma and about the various responses and reasons as the story went along. So while we loved the story and it was great for me and our older kids in growing our understanding and compassion for people who have been through trauma, it was too much for our 5 year old.

    Reply

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