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Bradley’s The War that Saved My Life and its sequel, The War I Finally Won, are two of my favorite middle grade novels, so I jumped when I saw she had a new one. Ten-year-old Della and her older sister Suki have just been moved into a foster home with kind but no-nonsense Francine. After their mother went to prison, they were living with her mother’s boyfriend and he did something awful to Della. Suki protected Della, but Della soon realizes that Suki hadn’t had anyone to protect her.
As the story of what happened slowly unfolds, Della and Suki try to move forward while coming to terms with what happens in the past. This is a difficult book and I was unsure whether I’d be happy with how it was told for a middle grade audience. But Bradley is masterful; it’s not graphic, though it’s clear what happened, and Della’s strength and sassiness are irresistible and even add a bit of levity. Bradley’s book lends that strength and voice to kids traumatized in similar ways; it’s real and important.
Ten-year-old Della has always had her older sister, Suki: When their mom went to prison, Della had Suki. When their mom’s boyfriend took them in, Della had Suki. When that same boyfriend did something so awful they had to run fast, Della had Suki. Suki is Della’s own wolf–her protector. But who has been protecting Suki? Della might get told off for swearing at school, but she has always known how to keep quiet where it counts. Then Suki tries to kill herself, and Della’s world turns so far upside down, it feels like it’s shaking her by the ankles. Maybe she’s been quiet about the wrong things. Maybe it’s time to be loud.
In this powerful novel that explodes the stigma around child sexual abuse and leavens an intense tale with compassion and humor, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley tells a story about two sisters, linked by love and trauma, who must find their own voices before they can find their way back to each other.