Every novel bestselling author Chris Cleave writes is very different from his others. I’ve read both Little Bee and Gold, and loved them both even though they were completely different. FYI: We reviewed Gold and the link to that review appears at the end of this review.
With his new historical World War II novel, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, Chris Cleave has another bestseller on his hands and we readers have another wonderful novel to savor…and I couldn’t be happier because it was well worth the wait!
War time is hard on life, much less on romance. There’s an urgency to everything because no one knows if they’ll even be alive the next day. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven captures that urgency. It is inspired by love letters exchanged by the author’s grandparents, letters that shed light on the unforeseen complexities war lends to any relationship. Although it is a brilliant portrayal of life during wartime, it’s also about how we behave when life puts our core values and beliefs to the ultimate test.
Like many people, eighteen-year-old Mary North wants to do her part when war is declared in 1939. She’s just left her finishing school (without graduating) and has no real-world work experience, but she feels she must be able to do something to help. Surely the war effort needs all the help it can get. So she sets off for the London War Office to volunteer her services.
Mary believes she will make a really good spy or something else clandestine and vital to England succeeding in the war. The War Office, however, has something else entirely in mind and assigns her to teach school…not at all what she had in mind. Mary has never been that fond of school and can’t possibly imagine how teaching school will do anything to help win the war; however, she’s determined to do her part. Unfortunately, the headmistress at her school also doesn’t see how Mary teaching school will help anyone, including the students there.
Mary is a bit of an unconventional teacher; however, she quickly grows to love her students and decides her mission is to protect them at all costs. She believes that all of her students can excel if someone believes in them, not just the ones who’ve had privileges, and she works hard with the school’s “charity” students who she senses are incredibly bright…and begins to make steady progress with them.
When The War Office decides London is no longer safe for its children because of relentless bombings, they ship them off to remote countryside villages to protect them. To read more about Operation Piped Piper, click here. The only problem with that is that the villagers don’t want children who aren’t like them, i.e., children from impoverished homes or who have different racial or ethnic backgrounds, illnesses or disabilities. That means those children face bigotry and what would be called today hate crimes – and they are eventually returned to London.
Of course, the children believe that is just more proof that they are unlovable and worthless – not worth protecting in the countryside. Mary is even more determined to see that their education is continued, despite orders to not teach them, and that they regain some small portion of the self-confidence they had attained when they left London.
Tom Shaw and Alistair Heath are London roommates, who’ve made a bargain to ignore the war and continue to live their lives the way they always have – at least that’s what they tell each other. The truth, however, is much more complicated than that. No one in London can escape the constant subtle and more overt peer pressure, the barrage of patriotism coming from all angles 24/7, and the guilt that comes from not being one of the young men shipping off to war.
Alistair can’t take the guilt and can’t justify living the good life while others sacrifice themselves – his values and beliefs won’t let him do that, so he secretly enlists. Tom is livid and horrified when he learns about it because he knows Alistair is the last person who is capable of fighting in a war – it’s 180 degrees away from who Alistair is as a human being…but there’s nothing he can do because it’s too late. Alistair has already received his orders.
And, meanwhile, Alistair and Mary have met and fallen in love with each other when it’s too late for Alistair to back out of his enlistment. And that too makes Tom livid. Mary can only hope Alistair will somehow manage to survive his posting in Malta and return safely to her in London – although even London isn’t very safe these days. At least she has Tom to rely upon while he’s gone, or at least she thinks she does. But does she, really? What will become of the three of them, and Mary’s students, when there is no place that is safe from one minute to the next – and when no one knows what tomorrow will bring?
As with Little Bee and Gold, the people in Everyone Brave Is Forgiven are real, warts and all. They are not characters – instead they live and breathe on the page. You feel like you could invite them for dinner tomorrow night and know exactly who would show up…if that makes any sense. They are complex and layered and…real. The villain in this novel is the war and what war does to people, all kinds of people, with no thought at all for the amazing wealth of possibility that is being lost forever – because even the survivors are not who they were when war began.
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a microcosm that beautifully and horribly illustrates the truth about war and its ramifications. It is lovely and heartrending all at the same time. It is touching and funny and – well, it’s like life. You never know what will happen from one minute to the next. I came to really like these characters, even when they were not very likeable, and I wanted them to make it and have the life they dreamed of – all of them, even when I knew that wasn’t possible. In short, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a very different kind of look at wartime and one well worth the read. I’m highly recommending it!
Author Upcoming Appearances & Book Signings:
May 4, 2016 at 7pm at Macaulay Honors College, New York City
May 5, 2016 at 7pm at Boswell Books in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
May 6, 2016 at 7pm at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California
May 7, 2016 at 7pm at La Jolla Riford Library in La Jolla, California
May 8, 2016 at 2pm at Pages Bookstore in Manhattan Beach, California
May 9, 2016 at 7pm at Powell’s Books (Cedar Hill Crossing) in Beaverton, Oregon
May 10, 2016 at 1:30pm at Microsoft Redmond Campus (for Msft employees) in Redmond, Washington
May 10, 2016 at 7pm at Seattle Public Library in Seattle, Washington
May 11, 2016 at St. Louis Library Headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri
May 12, 2016 at Book Expo America (BEA) in Chicago, Illinois
May 13, 2016 at Carnegie Lecture Hall in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
May 16, 2016 at Bonnie Stern Bookclub (venue TBA) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
May 17, 2016 at North York branch of Toronto Public Library in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
May 18, 2016 at Vancouver Writers Fest (Incite) in Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada
May 19, 2016 at 7pm at Bolen Books (Hillside Mall) in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
May 20, 2016 at WordFest, John Dutton Theater, Calgary Public Library in Calgary, Canada
Check the author’s web site for events beyond May 20th…
Can’t wait to read it? Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is available in every format from your favorite online bookseller. Click on the link below and you can have it to read immediately!
I’d love to get your comments on Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, Chris Cleave and/or his other work, and/or this review.
Click here to read our review of Gold by Chris Cleave.