Born with a club foot, Ada is trapped in their run-down apartment by her emotionally and physically abusive mother. she watches the world through her small apartment window, as other children, including her brother, play in the street, go to school and live a life of freedom and mobility.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is set during WW II and is appropriately written for middle grade readers. Full of insecurities and flaws, Ada is a relatable and endearing character. When the children are evacuated from London to a small town in the country, to keep them safe from bombing, she determines that she and Jamie will go, even without their mother's blessing.
It is there that they meet Susan Smith, a single woman, a little rough around the edges and not accustomed to children, tasked with keeping the siblings safe. But she becomes much more than a simple guardian.
Bradley does a fantastic job of getting to the core emotional issues of the characters, delving into the anxiety of fitting into a new place and not understanding much of anything in their new surroundings. Because of the abuse Ada has suffered all her life, she pushes back against every attempt to nurture or love. Its heart-breaking and honest and beautiful and the readers takes the journey with her in discovering her individual worth and identity.
This is a great story for elementary age kids to introduce WW II from a different perspective (as opposed to hiding Jews and concentration camps). But more importantly, its a story about finding your own value and standing up for yourself, learning who you are and learning to trust other people.
(cautious parent warning: there is reference to Susan Smith having a female friend that she lived with and was very close to. This relationship caused a rift between her father, who is a preacher, and causes her to be uncomfortable or unwelcome at church. So take that for what its worth. Its not a significant part of the book and not important to the main story line)