Ada has virtually no knowledge of the outside world. For the ten years of her short life her mother has forced her to remain in their apartment. Ashamed of her daughter’s club foot, “Mam” allows her only to sit in a chair and look out the window, crawling occasionally around the small apartment to help make tea or care for her younger brother Jamie.
Realizing that her brother will soon attend school, Ada decides to teach herself to walk. Mam is not pleased by Ada’s ambition, but has little time to crush the girl’s spirit. The threat of German bombers over London forces all parents to send their children to the countryside for safety. Mam has no intention of allowing Ada to accompany Jamie, but Ada sneaks out with him and manages to integrate herself into his group of schoolmates on the train out of the city.
Upon arrival in a small coastal village, all the children await selection by the locals. No one wants to take Ada and Jamie, who clearly have been neglected. Lady Thorton, the woman in charge of the Londoners, brings them to the home of Susan Smith who is forced to take them in spite of her protests. Suffering from depression brought on by the recent death of her best friend Becky, Susan has no desire to take on this responsibility. She rises to the occasion, however, and proves to be the salvation of these two abused children.
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley helps the reader to see many things that most people take for granted. Ada’s ignorance, brought on by her isolation, is astounding. She must learn even the simplest things, like how to use a toilet and what grass is.
Susan, the most compassionate character in the story, has a mysterious past. The implication that she and Becky may have been more than just friends, although subtle, is reinforced several times.
Much of the book takes place in Ada’s head, where she recalls the abuse she suffered at her mother’s hands in more detail than the publisher’s suggested target audience (9-12 years) may be ready to handle. Her psychological problems also manifest themselves in ways that adults will understand, but that younger readers may find disturbing.
A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is currently a full-time wife and mother.