Top positive review
A beautiful book
Reviewed in the United States on April 3, 2020
I bought this book because it got a rave review from my aunt, a retired middle-school teacher and guidance counselor. I thought it would be a good read with my 10 yo daughter, and we're working our way through it together right now. However, I read it first, and I loved it. Like all great children's literature, it is good reading for adults too!
Ada, the protagonist and narrator, is 10, so it's nice for my daughter to listen to a story about a girl her age. However, Ada's world is very different from my daughter's, and not just because her story is set in England at the outbreak of World War II. She comes from a background of abuse and physical disability that make her feel worthless. Then she and her brother Jamie escape from London into the countryside of Kent as part of a group of evacuee children removed from London for fear of German bombs. Since this happens in 1939, they're ahead of the Battle of Britain, but throughout the book, the war finds its way into their lives with their guardian, Susan Smith, a single woman nursing her own sorrows and disappointments.
The war in the book isn't just the Second World War - it's also Ada's struggle to come to terms with herself in a world that is different from the one she's known for so long. Suddenly she's faced with kindness, surrounded by people whose understanding of her bears no resemblance to many of the things she believes about herself. As the rest of the world falls apart, Ada finds herself experiencing stability and safety that she's never had before, and it's both comforting and terrifying to her. Even as she is given the freedom and encouragement to become herself, she struggles to find anything she trusts enough to hold on to. This often makes Ada challenging and difficult, but Susan, for all her own struggles, turns out to have the compassion and smarts to meet her where she is.
Some of Ada's conflict may prove difficult for young readers to comprehend; as an adult, I found it compelling and believable. My daughter seems to get the gist of it when I check in with her, which I try to do regularly as we read. There are a lot of well-drawn characters around Ada, Jamie, and Susan, along with enough historical detail to keep the reader engaged and invested throughout. I reached the end wanting to know more about Ada's story, but at the same time, the author's decision to end the story where she does also makes a lot of sense. By then, the novel has earned its title, and there's reason to feel hopeful about what the future holds for Ada, Jamie, and Susan.
Read this book.