Monday, November 23, 2020

"You Are Terrible, Ada. I Like You."

I like Ada, too.

She is the main character in The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This middle grade novel is the sequel to The War That Saved My Life. I liked that book, though according to my post on the subject I found the beginning and ending a little melodramatic. That wasn't the case with the sequel. This was a book I really looked forward to getting back to reading.

Ada, who was also the main character in War That Saved My Life, is marvelous, though not someone who could be described as nice. In fact, I'm a little surprised she made the cut in children's publishing, where likability is tossed around a lot. Perhaps she was accepted because this is a historical novel, and gatekeepers felt young readers could feel some distance.

No, Ada is not likable. What she is is angry and distrustful and expecting the worst, for good reason. When we first met her in the first book during World War II, she is the victim of maternal abuse. What saves her is the evacuation of children from London. Her mother didn't arrange for her to get out, so this incredibly tough young one got herself out. She and her younger brother land with Susan who an adult reading between the lines will believe is a lesbian grieving for her dead companion and a victim of periodic bouts of depression. I love this about Susan. She doesn't wear any signs saying "Lesbian" or "Mental Health Character." She just is. Just as World War II saves Ada, Ada and her brother save Susan.

But just because Ada is saved, it doesn't mean that everything is sweetness and light for her in Book 2. There's still that pesky Hitler to deal with. And Ada is still enraged, because her mother hadn't loved her and hadn't even tried to provide her with some basic health care that would have given her a much different childhood. Ada lived a horrible life before connecting with Susan. She can't be confident that she and her brother won't end up in a similar situation some day.

So The War I Finally Won is both a World War II home front story and a personal story about a child at war with her past and her present. It is really well done. 

Oh, another remarkable bit of character development about Ada--Because her mother kept her confined in an apartment with no access to the world, she is remarkably ignorant regarding run-of-the-mill life things that other children her age would have picked up. She doesn't know what a dragon is or fairy tales, for instance.

1 comment:

Ms. Yingling said...

You should take a look at Kate Albus' A Place to Hang the Moon. (2/2/21) It reminded me very much of this duology, and was even better because it involved a librarian. There is an elementary teacher that reads the Bradley works with her students, so they are always in demand.