During H.'s EEG yesterday I was able to read a book recommended to me by a reader, The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It's a chapter book written for children (I would probably hand it to a child older elementary and up), and is set in London and the English countryside during the evacuations of children during World War Two. The part of it that I want to share with you though, is that it has some of the best descriptions of what goes on inside the head of a child from a hard place that I have ever read.
I didn't know what to say. Somehow Christmas was making me feel jumpy inside. All this talk about being together and being happy and celebrating -- it felt threatening. Like I shouldn't be a part of it. Like I wasn't allowed. And Susan wanted me to be happy, which was scarier still. (p. 206)
My mittens looked like they had two thumbs apiece. Susan showed me how one thumb-part went over my thumb, and the other went over my littlest finger. She had taken very thin scraps of leather and sewed them across the palms. "They're riding mittens," she said, watching my face. "See?"
I saw. When I'd first started riding Butter I'd held the reins in my fists, but Fred insisted I do it the proper way, threading them through my third and fourth fingers and out over my thumb. In these mittens I could hold the reins right, and the leather strips would keep the yarn from wearing away.
"I made them up," Susan said. "They were all my own idea. Do you like them?"
It was one of those times when I knew the answer she wanted from me, but didn't want to give it. "They're okay," I said, and then relenting a little, "Thank you."
"Sourpuss," she said laughing. "Would it kill you to be grateful?"
Maybe. Who knew? (p. 190)
I stomped my crutch. It landed on one of Jamie's paper planes, smashing it into the rug. Jamie howled. I didn't care.
Miss Smith got up. "What's wrong with you?"
"My stomach hurts!"
"You're angry," she said. "But you can't take it out on Jamie. Say you're sorry and see if you can fix that plane."
"I'm not sorry," I said.
Miss Smith pressed her eyes shut, "Say it anyhow," she said.
"Jamie, come here," Miss Smith sad down on the sofa and opened her arms, and Jamie crawled into her lap. Ever since she'd hugged him in his classroom, he'd been cuddling up to her. I could hardly stand it. "Your sister's having a hard time," Miss Smith told him. "She didn't mean to rip your plane."
I wanted to say, I did too, only it was such a lie. I never meant to hurt Jamie. He just sometimes got in the way. But looking at him curled up on Miss Smith's lap made me want to scream. Nobody did that for me.
Except that Miss Smith patted the space beside her. "Sit down," she said. "No, really. Sit."
And then she put her arm around me, and pulled me halfway over.
I was almost on her lap.
"You're so stiff," she said. "It's like trying to comfort a piece of wood."
It felt very odd to have her touch me. Of course it made me tense. But I didn't go away inside my head. (p. 140)
It's a good story, well told, and the author absolutely nails the conflicting emotions, fear, and panic that are inside of the head of a hurt child and how that looks to the people around them. Plus it has horses. The only weak part, I felt was the ending. My inner book-loving child adored the ending because everything was tied up neatly and happily. My inner book-loving child was satisfied. The adult me, though, realizes that children who experience the level of abuse and neglect that this child did, do not get neatly healed by page 316. It is a slower and messier process. The adult me wanted a little glimmer of acknowledgement of that truth inside the happy ending.
Even with the neat and tidy ending, anyone who lives with a child from a hard place, or knows a child from a hard place, or is supporting a family raising a child from a hard place could benefit from reading this book. It helps to make a little sense of the sometimes nonsensical behaviors that these children display. And it does so with grace and thoughtfulness and compassion.