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Everyone Brave is Forgiven


Everyone Brave is Forgiven

The first paragraph of Chris Cleave’s latest novel, EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN, jumps right into the story. Mary North, a bored 18-year-old socialite, leaves Swiss finishing school only moments after it is announced that England has entered World War II. She volunteers for the war effort, assuming that her social skills will be of use somehow. She is assigned the post of teaching a small group of young children who are the leftovers --- the infirm, the mentally slow, and the non-Caucasians who either were not originally evacuated or who were evacuated but then were rejected by families in the countryside who were caring for the young London evacuees.

In her teaching position, Mary meets Tom Shaw, a young school administrator, who becomes a romantic interest. Tom's flatmate and closest friend, Alistair Heath, an art restorer at the Tate, has already enlisted. Though Tom doesn’t really want to join up, he feels he should do his part for crown and country. But the War Office turns him down, citing the importance of his civilian work.

"War is hell. This book does nothing to sugarcoat that fact.... EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN is a well-researched novel that gives readers plenty to think about."

When Alistair receives a brief leave before being posted to Malta, he returns to London to see Tom. By now, Tom and Mary are a serious, though uncommitted, couple. Hilda, Mary's best friend, is invited along to round out the foursome. But fate has other plans, and a quiet spark ignites between Mary and Alistair, which is later nurtured via letters.

Mary develops a rapport with Zachary, a young black child, who can neither read nor write, but is very street savvy. During a Christmas play at the school, the air raid sirens send everyone (students, parents and school staff) running to the school's basement for safety. The sound of explosions from the bombing are frightening, and Zachary runs outside. Tom chases after him. Soon Mary goes in search of Tom and Zachary. More bombs fall. The school building is decimated, and there are no survivors. Mary finds Zachary frightened but safe. Tom does not survive.

By now, Alistair is in the thick of things on Malta. He has lost an arm. Allied casualties are high. Food and ammunition are scarce. Troop morale is understandably low. Back on the home front, Mary and Hilda volunteer as ambulance drivers. Their ambulance runs are chaotic and risky, and many times they transport the dead. Both sustain injuries --- Mary to her leg, Hilda to her formerly pretty face. 

War is hell. This book does nothing to sugarcoat that fact. People learn to survive as best they can in such volatile times. War brings out the very best, as well as the very worst, in human nature. Loosely based on the wartime experiences of the author’s grandparents, EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN is a well-researched novel that gives readers plenty to think about.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on May 6, 2016

Everyone Brave is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave

  • Publication Date: March 7, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501124382
  • ISBN-13: 9781501124389