Simon & Schuster: 5/3/16
eBook review copy; 432 pages
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is a very highly recommended novel set during WWII.
It is 1939 and war has been declared. Privileged young socialite, Mary North leaves her Swiss finishing school and signs up to serve. She is assigned to teach at an elementary school. When her charges are evacuated to the country, she is at loose ends until she meets Tom Shaw, who runs the school district. Mary and Tom begin dating, and he has her set up a classroom for the few children who are brought back to the city. A child she is especially devoted to is Zachary, a 10 year-old black American. Mary fights prejudice, a continuing theme throughout the novel, and tries to bravely help out the war effort.
Tom Shaw's roommate, Alistair Heath, has enlisted. He has experienced the war's brutality personally in France. When he comes home on leave before being assigned to Malta, he goes out on a double date with Tom and Mary, and Mary's friend, Hilda. The attraction between Mary and Alistair is immediate, but both of them resist it. Mary remains loyal to Tom, declaring her love.
As the war progresses, the bombing of London begins and the blitz makes no one safe. Alistair goes to Malta, where he faces even more desperate conditions and dangerous encounters. Mary and Hilda both begin to write to Alistair. They also both step up their efforts to assist during the war and personal losses and stress begins to accumulate. Everyone is tested beyond their limits.
I love the title of this book. As it says, everyone brave is forgiven, should be forgiven, as they all try to do the best they can under horrendous, stressful circumstances. Perhaps they don't always do the most laudable thing, but they are all trying to be brave and should be extended grace to forgive any indiscretions or failings. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is both heartbreaking and hopeful.
Cleave writes in the beginning note to the reader that this story was inspired by the real-life love letters between his grandparents.
The story itself is perhaps one that could be and has been told many different times and ways. What makes this effort stand out is the sheer quality of the writing - it is incredible. I was pulled into the story immediately based on the excellence of the writing. Cleave does an extraordinary, insightful job creating his characters and exploring their innermost emotions and thoughts as they face forces beyond their control and must find a way to survive them. They are not perfect; they have flaws and shortcomings. They are real people experiencing extreme circumstances. At the same time Cleave perfectly captures and describes the setting and the situations the characters find themselves experiencing.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Simon & Schuster for review purposes.