The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school and signs up with the War Office. A spoiled daughter from a wealthy London family, Mary is dismayed when the War Office assigns her work as a schoolteacher for unwanted children (sick, slow, and children of color) who were not evacuated from the city. Mary begins a relationship with her boss, Tom Shaw, who falls deeply in love with her as he tries (in vain) to ignore the war. Tom’s friend Alistair Heath enlists immediately – and steals Mary’s heart. Set in London and Malta between 1939 and 1942, Chris Cleave’s new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, tests the lives, friendship, and love of Mary, Tom, and Alistair. War changes all three in irrevocable ways.
Many novels have focused on the London Blitz, but this was the first novel of WWII that I have read that also devoted itself to describing the Siege of Malta. With so many novels already written about the period, it was refreshing to read about a slice of the war that has been forgotten by many. In addition, Cleave focuses a portion of the novel to a discussion of the popularity in twentieth-century London of racist black minstrelsy shows. I never knew that these existed – or were popular – outside of the United States.
Possibly because the novel is based in part on his own grandparents’ experiences during the Seige of Malta and the Blitz, Cleave successfully writes Mary, Tom, and Alistair as real, three-dimensional characters. They are often daring and defy the status quo. But they are also weak, and not always brave. I’m still contemplating Cleave’s ending. With the war only half over, so much has already changed. Can the narrators move forward? It’s unclear, and the last sentence’s clever inversion of the title phrase only gives the reader a little dash of hope.
I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed this novel until I reached the end. Like Cleave’s earlier novel, Little Bee (The Other Hand in the UK), I believe that Everyone Brave is Forgiven will stick with me for quite some time.
Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Book published in 2016