Today I am sharing my book review for Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. A WWII historical fiction set in England.
Author: Chris Cleave
Genre: Historical Fiction > WWII
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
A spellbinding novel about three unforgettable individuals thrown together by war, love, and their search for belonging in the ever-changing landscape of WWII London.
It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.
Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.
A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage.
I really liked how Cleave approached this WWII historical fiction. Told in 3rd person omniscient, Everyone Brave is Forgiven follows follows Mary & Tom in London during the German Blitz (bombing raids in London), and also follows Alistair as he serves in the war. I’ve got to admit, I don’t always enjoy a story told in 3rd person omniscient, but Cleave pulls it off here. Generally, I don’t feel connected to the characters as much when the story is told in 3rd person, but Cleave did such an excellent job fleshing out these characters.
The real stars of the show here are the characters within Everyone Brave is Forgiven. Mary was my favorite kind of spitfire. She was assertive, independent, compassionate, outspoken, and unafraid to stand up for what she believe is right. Don’t get me wrong, Mary is not without her faults as you will see if you read this book, but this just made her feel all the more realistic. Alistair was also another favorite. I really appreciated his will to just keep pushing on, despite the awful events he was subjected to.
Another wonderful aspect about this book is the friendship between Mary & Hilda. You know those pairings that just seem meant to be? Mary & Hilda were meant to be friends. While their friendship has its ups and downs, at the end of the day they will always be there for each other. Positive female friendship is definitely lacking in literature, so I was thrilled to see such a wonderful friendship depicted here.
You know what a lot of other WWII historical fiction books do not cover? Racism, ableism, classism, and sexism. I was delighted that Cleave chose to explore the fact that when children in London were evacuated into the countryside, many children of color, poor children, & disabled children were left behind in the city. It was really heartbreaking to learn that certain children were excluded from evacuation. For those children left behind, Mary took a few of them under her wing & formed a nontraditional class. I particularly enjoyed Mary & Zachary’s relationship throughout the book. I loved that Mary refused to give up on him. I also found the insight into the black community in London during WWII very interesting.
Here’s something you don’t hear often: this WWII historical fiction book was funny. I do not think I’ve ever laughed as much in a WWII historical fiction book as I did in Everyone Brave is Forgiven. This is my first time experiencing Cleave’s writing, so I am not sure if he writes all his books with this much whit & dry humor, but I really enjoyed it. This book included some of the most amusing dialogue I’ve read in a long time. Some may say that this much humor in a book dealing with war is inappropriate, however I disagree. Many people cope with hardships in different ways. Personally, I am one of those people that likes to see humor in every situation, even grim ones.
Like most WWII historical fiction books, there are some heavier themes, but also some beautiful themes that play out. Heavier themes include loss, grief, drug addiction, PTSD, etc. Lighter themes include friendship, hope, and love. I feel like there was enough of a balance here that prevented the book to feel bogged down by the heavier themes. This book would make for an excellent book club selection, as there are many different things you’d be able to discuss.
I really liked how Cleave left things a little open ended and did not tie everything up with a neat little bow. I always appreciate when a few things are left up to the reader’s imagination, and are up for interpretation. I find that these types of books often make for great book club discussions.
***Trigger/content warnings: drug addiction, PTSD, & graphic violence/gore***
Chris Cleave’s newest novel, EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN, was an instant New York Times bestseller when it was published this year. His debut, INCENDIARY, was an international bestseller and multiple prize-winner. His second novel, the Costa-shortlisted, New York Times #1 bestseller LITTLE BEE, has found phenomenal worldwide success. (In the UK, Australia and NZ it goes by the title THE OTHER HAND.) His third book, GOLD, confirmed his status as “one of our most powerful, important and psychologically insightful novelists”.
Cleave’s novels are published in thirty languages and have been adapted for screen and stage worldwide. He is a regular newspaper and broadcast contributor to the cultural debate on parenting, literature and human rights.
Outside writing, Cleave’s interests are refugees, education and psychology. He is 42 and lives in London with his wife and three children.
Have you read Everyone Brave is Forgiven? If so, what did you think?
What are some of your favorite WWII historical fiction novels?
Comment below & let me know 🙂