HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The War That Saved My Life
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Publisher: Puffin Books, reprinted 2016
Related website: http://www.penguin.com/youngreaders (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 9 – 12, but I would say ages 12 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War That Saved My Life (published in 2015 by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group USA LLC, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). It is 1939, and ten-year-old Ada Smith, whose was born with a twisted foot, lives with her Mam and her six-year-old little brother Jamie in a one-room apartment in London, England. Ada has never left the apartment because her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s club foot to let her outside and beats her unmercifully. With World War II starting up and people fearing German bombs on London, Jamie, along with other children, is shipped out of London to escape the war, and Ada sneaks out to join him. They are evacuated to a small coastal town in Kent where a woman named Susan Smith, who is mourning the recent death of her long-time housemate named Becky, is forced to take the two kids in. What will happen to Ada and Jamie? Will Susan and the children ever learn to get along and be happy with each other? Or will Ada and her brother be forced back into the cruel hands of their mother?
The War That Saved My Life was a 2016 Newbery Honor book and was also the Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle School). It is said to be for ages 9-12, but some on the younger end of that scale might find the abuse which Ada’s mother heaps upon the child a little intense. I would say that it is more suitable for ages 12 and up. Some common euphemisms (heck, drat) occur, the term “Good Lord” is used as an interjection, and Mam utters the Cockney curse word “‘ell” a few times. There are also references to drinking wine. However, the most serious issue is that one reviewer wrote, “Elements of sexuality in this book may be problematic for many parents.” Having read the book, I found no sexual activity mentioned and not even any talk about sexual things. I suspect that this reviewer was referring to some other reviews which said things like, “A secondary theme of lesbianism mentioned nowhere on the book summary or description,” and “This book has a character that is a lesbian,” or “Unbelievable that only two of the 400 plus reviews mentioned the subtle lesbianism content of this book.”
Now, I am very sensitive to such charges as these because I know how easy it is for a modern writer to slip unbiblical concepts into an entertaining story. And I can see how some might interpret the relationship between Susan and Becky as lesbian. Susan never wanted to marry and shared a home with Becky. Her clergyman father doesn’t think that she can be redeemed from her evil ways. The women of the village have never liked her. And Ada’s mom called her a slut. At the same time, all of these statements can be explained and understood in a way that is entirely without any connection to sexuality, and to be honest, unless I missed something, I found nothing which necessitated a conclusion of lesbianism. In fact, Becky and Susan had their own rooms. I mean, can’t two good friends of the same gender share a home without being accused of homosexuality—especially in 1939? The story has some disturbing elements to it but ends up with a satisfactory conclusion.
The author herself has publicly acknowledged that the two characters are infact gay. For some parents choosing the book that will not matter, for others it will. Your review makes the gay references seem so vague that they can be easily missed, but after reading the books I would have to agree with other reviewers that the references, although vague at times are easily interpreted as they were implied.
I did not know that the author had publicly acknowledged that they were homosexuals. However, I still think that the references are vague enough that they can be interpreted otherwise.
I thought it was well written, and didn’t think the sexuality issue was clear. It could be interpreted either way. So when reading with a child, just say they are friends. It is annoying that everything is seen as gay if people of the same sex are just very good friends, supportive to each other as singles, and may live together because it works financially, or is even necessary financially. Often prejudice toward this setup is found in married people with families because they can’t imagine another life beyond their own circle of friends that mirror their own situations. It’s not a good thing for Christian community to develop these prejudices, so I would say it would even be good for Christian kids to see other possibilities of how God works in different people. There is a grace message in the book if you interpret it with a Christian lens and don’t insert unnecessary sexual messages. The author may have intended a lesbian relationship, but it isn’t explicit and art is open to interpretation. It’s like saying you shouldn’t read Frog and Toad because the author/illustrator lived a gay life. Some people want to say, oh Frog and Toad are gay. Ridiculous. They are just friends. And it’s great work. Common grace ministers to everyone. God gives gifts to whom ever He chooses, to work out His purposes. And those gifts reflect His glory.
Thank you. I agree.
I agree with both of these statements. And in fact I thought the book also made mention of Becky having her own room more than once. I read this book to my 6-14 yr old girls who are most times critically aware of these situations and none of them said a thing. (Please note I edited some of the language at times because of my younger ones, but an easy read and we all liked this book quite a lot).