Like a lot of people, I’m a sucker for good historical fiction. Books that transport you to another time and place seem to fly by, and the book I’m reviewing today is no different. As usual, I’m a little late to the game when it comes to contemporary fiction. I like to see what books stick around before I dive in headfirst, and Everyone Brave is Forgiven definitely seems to have some staying power at the bookstore!
The author, Chris Cleave, is also the author of Little Bee, which I read and reviewed last year. Just like in Little Bee, the writing in Everyone Brave is Forgiven is clear and compelling. The main characters are well-developed and interesting, and the conflict of the novel (and its resolution) feel very true-to-life.
The novel is set in WWII Britain during the difficult period of the bombings of Britain. This is an interesting take on WWII fiction, which usually seems to take place either after the Americans became involved or in Nazi Germany. I’ve read a lot of WWII novels, and this one sticks out in my mind as unique because it is set in London and (partly) in Malta. I learned about what life was like in Britain during the bombings in a new way.
One of my favorite WWII-centered novels, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, talks about the aftermath of the war on London, but this book shows what it was like to live in the heart of the city while the war was raging on. I also didn’t know anything about the siege of Malta, or about the racial divide in London at the time, so this book opened my eyes to a lot of issues that other WWII period fiction doesn’t cover.
In terms of a short summary of this book, I think the first sentence of the novel sums everything up pretty nicely: “War was declared at 11:15 and Mary North signed up at noon.” Talk about a snappy opening line! Mary North is the main character of the novel, and she signs up to help the war effort, certain that she’ll become a spy of some sort. Instead she becomes…a schoolteacher. You can see already why this book appeals to me, right? London, history, schoolteacher?
As Mary takes on her new assignment, she meets a young man named Tom Shaw whose main desire is to avoid the war effort. In the course of their acquaintance, she also meets Tom’s friend Alistair Heath. What follows is a surprising and beautifully painted look at love, sacrifice, and the emotional turmoil that accompanies the heartbreaks of war. My favorite thing about this book was that it was unpredictable. Sometimes with historical fiction you can figure out how the book will end, but there are twists and turns in this book that I never saw coming!
If you’re a fan of books like Atonement, The Book Thief, All the Light We Cannot See, or The Kite Runner, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It was suspenseful, emotional, and true-to-life, which, if you ask me, are three hallmarks of good historical fiction!