Ada has spent her entire life in the room above the pub. Her mother tells her that her crippled foot is too much of an embarrassment; she can never be allowed outside. But in secret, while her mother is at work and her little brother is playing outside, Ada begins (painfully) to teach herself how to walk. When England goes to war with Germany, the children of London are sent away to the country. Although her mother will not allow her to go, Ada sneaks away with her brother in search of a better life. Living in the country with a childless woman who is mourning the death of her partner, Ada begins to question some of the things she always believed to be true. Maybe she is not as worthless as her mother said. Maybe she can have friends. And with the help of the pony, Butter, she may even be able to run.
This is the story of a girl who overcomes a traumatic, abused childhood and a woman who finds her way out of her grief end into a community that she never expected to accept her. The mother is not a nuanced character; the reason behind her hatred of her children is never really explained or alluded to. I think the book may have been stronger if there had been some elements of the mother’s character that elicited Ada’s love or loyalty, as is often the case in abusive situations. But Ada’s strength makes her a compelling character, and it is exciting to watch her thrive in her new environment. Her journey is paralleled with her caregivers struggle to overcome her self-imposed isolation. Not all readers will pick up on exactly why Miss Smith believes the community will not accept her (she tells the children it is because she chose to never marry, but her grief over the death of her best friend who lived with her implies that she is gay), but when the children bring her out of her shell, she is welcomed into the community with open arms.
I would recommend this book to middle grade readers who enjoy historical fiction.