Everyone Brave Is Forgiven
By Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster, 2016
Mary North volunteers for the war effort at the very first call, and is disappointed when she is tasked with teaching school children instead of the glamorous spy assignment she’d imagined. But she soon finds that she loves teaching and is disappointed when her class is evacuated. She lobbies the school administrator, Tom, to give her any job he has left. Enamored with her, he scrapes together a class of misfit students who couldn’t be evacuated for various reasons and the two of them fall in love. Their relationship becomes a distraction from the war raging around them, including Tom’s anxiety over his friend, Alastair, who signs up to fight when his job as an art curator is no longer necessary. When war-rattled Alastair returns to London to visit Tom on leave, he and Mary experience an instant connection that cannot be ignored. The choices they make next will have a lasting impact on themselves and everyone around them as they all struggle to make it through the never-ending violence and heartache that is war.
This post contains affiliate links. Read more about that here.
I LOVED this book. The dialogue is so witty and the story felt so real and honest. Cleave didn’t shy away from dealing with the tough stuff, and themes of class, purpose, racism, duty, and more are dealt with openly. He did a great job creating characters that you care about, even when they are rather unlikable, like Mary was at times. There were so many well-developed side characters that added depth and detail to the story, and the main characters’ interactions with them said a lot about who they were and what they believed.
This back cover review pretty much summed it up for me:
“Cleave has the extremely rare power of making you smile with lively language and clever observations while he is thoroughly, irreparably breaking your heart.”
—New York Newsday
Disclaimer: There is a fair amount of cursing and crude humor in this book, which normally would turn me off, but I have to say it mostly felt justified in the context of the story. War is an awful thing, and this felt like an honest portrayal of how one might deal with the horrors associated with it.
So if you think you can make it past the language, definitely give Everyone Brave is Forgiven a read. It is beautifully and powerfully written, and I couldn’t put it down. Extra fact: It is loosely based on the lives of the author’s grandparents and their stories of living through World War II. When he researched for the book he actually traveled to Malta and slept in places his grandfather slept, and that just made it all the more interesting to me.