The War That Saved My Life – Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
16th May 2016, 328 pages, 5/5 stars
Ten-year-old Ada has a club foot, and she is kept locked up in her London apartment, while her six-year-old brother roams the streets. Mam hits her two children, and she punishes Ada by locking her in the tiny cabinet beneath the sink. Then World War II breaks out, and the children of London are evacuated to the country.
Mam intends to send Jamie, but not Ada. The wily ten-year-old sneaks out though, using all of her willpower to drag herself to Jamie’s school. Once in the country, Ada and Jamie are reluctantly taken in by Susan Smith. Susan suffers from bouts of depression linked to her best friend Becky’s death, and she doesn’t feel that she can give the children the care that they need. There were definitely some undertones that Susan and Becky had been lovers, which I thought added to the story’s well-roundedness.
This beautiful story reminded me of Goodnight Mister Tom, a childhood favourite. The War That Saved My Life delves into serious issues of abuse, mental illness, and war, through the eyes of a child. I couldn’t put the book down, and I definitely teared up a few times! Overwhelmingly though, it is a beautiful story of hope and family.
Dreaming the Enemy – David Metzenthen
23rd March 2016, 304 pages, 4/5 stars
This was an incredibly refreshing take on young adult war novels. First of all, it covers the effects of the Vietnam War, a period not generally covered in children’s and young adult fiction. Secondly, the book looks at the aftermath on both an Australian soldier, Jimmy Shoebridge, and his Viet Cong counterpart, Khan. Khan is technically only a figment of Jimmy’s imagination, but his is a profound story nonetheless.
The story does flick around a lot. Jimmy is home from the war, and struggling with everyday life, compounded by people who take out their anger at the government on the soldiers. Jimmy is haunted by Khan, a young Vietnamese soldier who he believes he killed in an assault which killed his two best friends.
As Jimmy gets on with life – hiding from the world, then visiting the families of his fallen mates, Barry and Lex, before trying to rekindle the romance with his girl – he imagines Khan going through the same motions, coming to terms with what has happened.
Sad, but also hopeful, Dreaming the Enemy was so much better than I had expected. It highlights the importance of resilience and forgiveness, and taught me so much about those who carry their ghosts with them.
What do you like about stories set during wartime? What are some of your favourites?