10-year-old Ada has never been outside the apartment she lives in with her mother and younger brother in 1940’s London. Ada’s mother is a cruel woman who abuses the girl because she was born with a club foot. She has never been to school and she has never learned to read or write. Ada’s younger brother, Jamie, however, is allowed to roam free. When Ada learns that Jamie is going to be evacuated to the countryside to save London’s children from German bombing raids, Ada escapes and runs away with him.
Once in the country, Ada and Jamie are not chosen by any families, so they are placed with Susan Smith, a single woman with no experience with children and struggling with bouts of depression. But Susan is kind, and under her care Ada and Jamie flourish. There’s finally enough to eat. Warm beds. Clothes. And a pretty pony outside that captures Ada’s imagination – Ada promises that she will learn to ride him. But Ada is caught between a yearning for her mother to send for them and the loving home that Susan is building for them.
This was an incredible book. Ada’s life with her mother in London are reminiscent of Charles Dickens. I was immediately drawn into this historical fiction – I mean I ignored housework and stayed up late and finished it in two sittings. I think the cover is misleading, and I think the book was mis-rated for grades 4-6 and older readers will enjoy following Ada’s struggles to accept Susan’s help. Even though the characters are younger than our 7th and 8th grade readers, the subject matter, setting, events etc., are incredibly complex and require a lot of deeper thought.