Book Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Cleave wields words like a miner wields a pickax: he strikes hard and sharp. His descriptions leave you feeling as if you experienced the setting not from the comfort of your living room sofa, but in all the grit and passion of place itself.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

As I wrote in this post and this post, I never tire of WWII stories. Everyone Brave is Forgiven tells the story from the perspective of those who stayed in London and experienced the war on their own front porches.

Back Cover Description

“The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up. Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided. Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget. Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.

And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.”

Characters

Mary North is a delightfully rebellious socialite who has more backbone than many soldiers. Her relationship with her disenfranchised students—African Londoners and children with disabilities—shines a light on the period. Even Nazi bombs couldn’t destroy prejudice. It’s no wonder Tom Shaw, a soft-hearted sloth of a man, falls for her. She loves him too, until Alistair’s quick wit sticks to her heart and forms a love-triangle that crosses oceans.

Mary’s high society rebellion, Tom’s “why’s everyone so upset about all this” attitude, and Alistair’s stark irony each give a striking perspective on the war. Cleave’s characters are well-rounded and realistic.

Plot

The plot reminds me of digging in the rocky soil of my landscaping. Every page reveals a stone, a new ugly truth about the war. From prejudice, to war crimes, to overblown bureaucracy, Cleave leaves no room to romanticize war. This book made me think.

As a romantic myself, I wanted things to work out better for Tom, Mary, and Alistair. Like all well-written characters, they became my imaginary friends, and I wanted a fairy tale ending for them. Don’t misinterpret this to mean that I didn’t like the ending. It was a satisfying ending, but like the rest of the plot, reflected the difficulties of life at war.

Writing Style

Cleave’s writing has a no-nonsense feel to it that differs from the female authors that I typically read. He is particularly gifted at Alistair’s wit, which reminds me of my older brother. His writing style reflects the overall tone of the novel. With little in the way of flowery fluff, Cleave wields words like a miner wields a pickax: he strikes hard and sharp. His descriptions leave you feeling as if you experienced the setting not from the comfort of your living room sofa, but in all the grit and passion of place itself.

Other

I like the cover image, though I wish it showed London in its damaged state. That was one of the more striking parts of the book, experiencing the bombings of London.

Conclusion

My grandmother loaned me this book, but it would be worth buying a used copy, unless you’re one of those people who can’t resist that new-book smell. If you’re stingy like me, this could be a library read, though I wouldn’t have regretting purchasing it.


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