I started to write that World War II is the setting for this story, but that wouldn't be quite right. The war does figure prominently in the story in various ways and it is always present in the background behind all other action. But I think the best way to explain the story is to say that WWII is the catalyst for everything that happens.
Ada and her brother Jamie live with their mother in London during 1939. Their father has been gone since Jamie was a baby. Now Ada is 10 and Jamie is 6 and old enough to go to school soon. Their mother (Mam) has never let Ada go to school, or anywhere else. Ada spends every day in their tiny 3rd floor apartment, watching the world outside the window. Mam keeps her inside because Ada has a clubfoot and she doesn't want anyone to know that her daughter is a "cripple."
When the children are evacuated from London to the countryside because of the threat from German bombers, Ada goes with Jamie and they discover another world from what they've known. There is plenty of food to eat, baths every day, clean sheets on the bed, grass and fresh air outside... They are assigned to a single woman named Susan Smith who lives alone. Although Susan protests that she doesn't know how to care for children, she does a better job than Mam right from the start.
(Photos of Kent, where evacuated children were taken.)
It is fascinating to watch the children, especially Ada, explore the English countryside and slowly emerge from the timid shells they have lived in with their mother. The behaviors that are described as they try to cope with all the changes and feel overwhelmed at times are what one would expect from children recovering from years of neglect and abuse. Readers will be cheering for each accomplishment and small flash of bravery.
(English ponies like Butter, the pony in the book)
This would be an excellent book to read as part of a unit on WWII, because it does cover things like the evacuation, the bombing raids, rationing, victory gardens, etc. But it is also a great story for anyone who enjoys characters that are able to overcome obstacles and handicaps to reach for a better life.
I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. You can find out more about the author and her books on her website. For more about World War II and its effects in England, visit the website for the Imperial War Museum, where the author did a lot of her research.
One of the displays from the museum, a boat used during the Dunkirk evacuations.