Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave - A NetGalley Review

Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 3,2016)
Description from the publisher:
London, 1939.

The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.
Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.
Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.
Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.
And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.
Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.

I usually try to parse out reading WWII novels, but there seems to be a wealth of them being published lately. I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of Chris Cleave's novels, so there was no way I would put this one off, and I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy. (I highly recommend Incendiary, Little Bee and Gold.)

Cleave's stories are all so emotionally eviscerating, so I was on my guard to read one set mainly during the London Blitz and the Siege of Malta. What makes his novels so unique, is their raw, visceral, emotional gut-punch material and, notably: a huge guilty secret. I think that might have set myself up to not have those expectations met. I kept waiting for some terrible undisclosed plot point to be revealed about one of the characters and that never really happened. Which was my bad, really. This was much more nuanced stuff: lovely, yet unpretentious, it's a stark and vivid story of how war transforms people. Knowing that his grandparents love letters inspired the story is just so wonderful. And there were certainly those telltale Cleave scenes of raw, visceral emotion. Once Mary becomes an ambulance driver in London, there are some episodes that are very difficult to read and one where she faces her own death that is written in the most harrowing way. And after reading this book, I feel as if I, too, have been to Malta during the siege. Alistair's time there is so real you can taste it, and there, too, are some unforgettably written scenes - one that reminded me of Little Bee, in a way.

At first it was difficult to emotionally attach to Mary, ostensibly the main character. She starts off as aloof and naive, and goes on quite a difficult journey - coming of age during WWII. It was slightly easier to identify with Alistair from the beginning, and his trials as he goes off to war. But I think that is probably by design, and somewhere along the way I fell a little bit in love with her as her motivations change. 

“There was a sadness in her mother’s eyes. Mary wondered whether it had always been there, becoming visible only now that she was attuned to sorrow’s frequency.”

I didn't realize that I really did enjoy this book until it was over, which was fitting, given one of my favorite passages - when she realizes that she loves Alistair:

"When the hour had come for the war to take him away, that had been the first and last moment she had known without doubt that she loved him. One knew how one felt only when things ended." 

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is available on May 3rd and I would definitely recommend checking it out!


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