In Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s Odyssey Award-winning The War That Saved My Life, ten-year-old Ada is rescued from appalling abuse and neglect and cautiously begins to believe that she is worthy of love. The War That I Finally Won picks up where the first book left off, after Ada has successfully undergone surgery to correct her clubfoot. Once healed, she emerges into a radically different world and must come to terms with losing her former home in a bombing and learning that her abusive mother, Mam, has died. Ada, Jamie, and Susan move into Lord and Lady Thornton’s mansion-like cottage, where they are soon joined by the irascible Lady Thornton herself. Following on her heels is Ruth, a young refugee from Germany, who comes to the house to study with Susan. Tensions run high as this motley group tries to overcome biases, confront fears, and help each other find peace amidst the greatest tragedies imaginable.
Listeners who were enchanted by Jayne Entwistle’s exquisite voicing of Ada, her sunny brother, Jamie, and their infinitely compassionate guardian, Susan, will rejoice that Entwistle has returned to narrate The War That I Finally Won. Once again, Entwistle weaves a complex picture with her voice, seamlessly moving from one character to the next. Each character’s signature traits are fully realized, from Susan’s implacable calm to Jamie’s eternal hopefulness. Ruth’s gruff German accent is captured perfectly and remains consistent throughout. Entwistle’s portrayal of Lady Thornton is delightful, conveying the irascible lady’s frosty hauteur that gradually becomes tinged with worry and regret.
Entwistle triumphs in her portrayal of Ada, whose poignant blend of prickliness and courage is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Communicating a child’s voice is a difficult proposition, as it’s easy to fall into the trap of using overly childish or falsetto tones. This approach can grate on the ears and turns complex characters into caricatures. On the other hand, a skilled narrator who is able to convey a child’s sensibility and voice opens up a world of listening for eager listeners. Happily, Entwistle is consummately talented in this regard, narrating with such skill that listeners hear the unmediated, clear voices of Ada, Jamie, and Maggie. Ada’s struggles become even more wrenching, as they seem so authentic and true.
If The War That I Finally Won were to win the Odyssey Award this year, it would be an unprecedented win. Kirby Heyborne narrated two Odyssey Award-winning books (Rotters in 2012 and Scowler in 2014), but so far, both a first book and its sequel have yet to win. Will this be the case with The War That I Finally Won? Only time will tell, but the excellence of this remarkable production makes it a worthy contender.
The War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle. 8 hours, 46 minutes. Listening Library, 2017.