Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 May 2016

Member Reviews

Disclaimer: WWII historical fiction is one of my favorite literary genres, and Chris Cleave’s Little Bee was on my fave list for a long time. I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest review), but this is a book I would have grabbed on the day it hit the bookstores. I was not disappointed. If you’re a fan of Kate Atkinson or Kristin Hannah, “Everyone Brave...” should be on your must-read list. Cleave sets up the story beautifully and weaves together themes of war, feminism and racial inequality with the complications of love and fate to create an unforgettable story of loss and resilience. Highly recommend.
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Chris Cleave is a skillful writer who can craft a large scale book very well and this is no different. Set in the early days of World War II, this character-driven novel centers on four young Brits living in London when war breaks out. Privileged Mary North, 18, signs up to do something for the war effort and finds herself teaching children who were not evacuated to the countryside. As head of the Education Authority,Tim Shaw, 23, hires Mary for her teaching position, and yup, you guessed it, he becomes her lover. Tim’s flatmate Alastair Heath, a 24-year-old an art conservator at the Tate museum, immediately enlists and is deployed to France until the British and French troops are evacuated from Dunkirk. Not terribly attractive but equally privileged Hilda, Mary’s friend, is somewhat shallow and boy-crazy and who is very attracted to Alistair Ultimately, in my opinion, Hilda is the most interesting of the group simply because there’s real character development by the end of the book. The story is told mainly from Mary and Alistair’s point of view, whose experiences during the war are very different, though their paths cross and the two find they are attracted to each other. 

A lot happens in this book, mirroring all the horrors of war. I thought it would be a great adult novel for teens to read, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a little graphic for me to recommend it for them. However, if you are an adult who enjoys reading historical fiction about WWII, this might be a good choice, if you haven’t already read it.
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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***

*Big thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I absolutely loved the premise for Everyone Brave is Forgiven! I think the setting was written beautifully and the characters were compelling. While the pacing felt a little slow, it is certainly a character-driven novel and the pay-off is in those characters (particularly the main voices of Mary and Alistair) and their reactions to the deeply troubling and heart-wrenching realities of war all around them. Definitely an interesting read and I look forward to reading more of this author's work in the future!
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After reading a few chapters, I decided this book held no interest for me at this time nor was it a good fit for my blog.  I elected not to finish the book now, but it may well be a case of "the wrong book at the wrong time" syndrome and I might be willing to try it again in the future.  Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to sample this title.
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Cleave's ironic tone coupled with elegant passages make this WWII novel one that will haunt the reader. The devastating conditions in war torn London and the battle for Malta are hard to read about but once again, Chris Cleave's marvelous storytelling and colorful characters are compelling.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1629036963?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1
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Opening line:
"Was was declared at eleven-fifteen and Mary North signed up at noon."

A story of love, prejudice, bravery all set during World War Two. 
Mary is an independent young woman who wants to make a difference in the world. She starts out by being a teacher, later takes a job as an ambulance driver and finally helps black children survive. She starts to date Tom, who helps her get a job, falls in love with Tom's best friend, Alistair and lives through an air raid on London. 
War is hard on everyone, soldiers, civilians, families and friends. Mary does somethings she isn't proud of and I think that shows her humanity. She also does somethings that she should be proud of but is looked down on for. 
I didn't enjoy the writing only because it isn't my style but I know many readers will enjoy it!

This story is based on the author's own family. He went to the places his grandfather fought. He talked with the people who were still alive, he read letters and heard stories. It's nice that he gets to learn so much about his family and their history.

For the sensitive reader: about 50 swear words (no F words); kissing; a non-descriptive sex scene.

Thank you to netgalley for the early read.
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What a wonderful book!   It pulled me in and never let me go.   The bombing of London during WWII was relentless and so random in whom it victimized nightly, and this book captures that beautifully.   (If a time of war can be described as 'beautiful'.)    I grew to love the characters, especially little Zachary.

Chris Cleave has done it again.   This is a book that educates, entertains -- and touches your heart.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC of this book for an honest review.
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Goodreads review below (published April 14, 2016)

I received a copy of this ARC from net galley in exchange for an honest review for a historical fiction regarding WWII so here it goes:

"But perhaps that is the work of a novelist after all—to dig one small hole that must host a great number of men."

Chris Cleave (of "Little Bee" fame) begins the novel with a letter to the readers explaining his own family's involvement in WWII, how bravery came in a number of forms for both the men and the women and how he actually traveled to Malta where his grandfather was stationed and learnt the effort it had taken for the men to have broken through the dirt and make a hole to encompass as many body parts as possible for the men that were dying from the relentless bombings and all other kinds of casualties from the war.

While the actual novel is not biographical, he used Malta and a variety of experiences to incorporate into the novel which gives the novel its authenticity, in my humble opinion.

So the actual novel:

Mary North is from a wealthy, prominent family in England with her dad in politics and her mum catering to the social functions one needs to hold as a politician's wife. 

On the day England becomes involved in the war, Mary signs up to the War Office, excited for the adventure it promises. 

Tom and Alistair live in an attic and are the best of friends. Alistair conserves art masterpieces and Tom is an educator, a teacher. Tom believes the war will be over before it even starts and has no interest in signing up, Alistair does. 

Hilda is Mary's best friend, concerned with looks and finding a gentleman that won't be interested in Mary first. She is brave and is there for her friend though at the start of the novel she comes across as very vapid, only through her actions do you get to see the real Hilda lying underneath. 

"The eye may be an obligate scout but the heart is not an incurable follower."

The four of them get tangled up in each other's lives, war is complicated as it is, without throwing love and its entanglements over the top but sometimes love is all one can hold to when the adventure wears off and all you can do is survive.

I love the interwoven lives of the four and I absolutely admired Mary's character so much, the way she continued to find a way to teach, how she stood by Zachary when no one else from 'white society' would. The fact that she got slapped walking down the street with him enforced the craziness of the time, while the city is being damned to hell with bombings every night and countless dead or dying, to have a white woman seen with a black boy and for it to evoke such a reaction really highlights the undercurrent/darker side of society that even a war could not dislodge. 

"I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season."

Alistair also undergoes so many transformations and his character develops through the events that unfold while he is in France and then Malta. His undying spirit and the easy way he would joke about the situation he was in to make his men smile when smiles would have been few and far between really touched me. 

"He missed the way they had made rain hilarious, and passersby mysterious, and bridges cross more than the river."

The love, gloriously messy and unapologetic, enduring through the war and surviving while other more fragile things such as human lives did not was another theme of the book besides bravery or even another aspect of bravery if you really want to think about it. Mary loves wholeheartedly and not just the men but her mother, her best friend and her students, showing al the different types of relationships. Sometimes you just can't help who you fall head over heels with and I think the two relationships she formed each were important and helped shape her character and will continue to shape her.

The ending is left open ended and there is still three years of war to be fought so it's left up in the air as to what will happen but there a glimmer of hope, that love, as flimsy and as strong at the same time will survive and be enough and that those forgiven will be brave and do the right thing, when it matters, either in the war or on the other side of it. If the forgiven survive. 

4 stars.
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After just finishing Everyone Brave is Forgiven I don’t know what to think. I had to reread the last 2 paragraphs 5 times just to grasp what was happening, the ending didn’t really feel like an ending and I’m ok with that. An unexpected love story with an unexpected ending, leaving you to wonder what paths are weary travelers are going to take next and leaving a bit melancholic in the process. Seeing how I can be prone to melancholy myself I appreciate a book that caters to the mood that I am in and leaves me feeling appropriate. 

Sprinkled throughout the novel was a bit of social commentary that works as well now as it did then. Commenting on what counts as bravery, is it the big gestures that we do or the little ones that count? How must is acceptable to give up for those we love and when is it best to speak up. 

“We are a nation of glorious cowards, ready to battle any evil but our own.”  
That quote just stuck with me while reading the final chapters, we are so often fixed on our bubble that we ignore the world around us. Were if it doesn’t happen to us then it’s not an issue, and belittle those who are woke enough to see outside themselves.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and kicking myself that it took me this long to read it. 

Received book from NetGalley, just took my time getting to it
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I am a huge fan of WWII based books, not so much the military aspect but mostly the human one. I liked the rapport between Hilda and Mary, but had a hard time relating to the light speed way they both fell in and out of "love". I guess that's just the way things are during war time. There wasn't a lot of depth in their relationships with men, but they had a strong one between them. I was left wanting to know more about Zachary's destiny, as well as the other kids in the basement. His story of racism and survival will stay with you. The characters were human and raw and flawed and just simply doing the best they could in an impossible situation.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion
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Author Chris Cleave is a master wordsmith! Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is written in a completely different style than his earlier novel, Little Bee, and I am amazed at his versatility. Where Little Bee was a contemporary novel, written with intensity and power, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is done in an early 20th Century British style, which completely matches the book's setting and plot. But he just as powerfully pulls readers into the story from the very beginning, and it's such a joy (and heartbreak) to read of high-society Mary, who strives to find her place in, and feel like a valuable member of, society, and best friends Tom and Alistair, who part ways once war is declared in England.
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Chris Cleave's WW2 novel follows the lives of four young Brit's whose lives are changed irrevocably by the war. My quibble with the book is that the friendship of Mary and Hilda just rang a tad false.
This is a sad story and one that did not sing quite as strongly for me as All the Light We Cannot See, or Code Name Verity. Beautiful prose compensates for the story, so 3.5 stars rounded up to four.
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2.5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Loosely inspired by his grandfather's story, Cleave crafts a story about the start of World War II in London. 
While the story focuses mostly on three characters, it is Mary who I felt like the story was really being told through. Even when it was focused on Alastair and his voice, I still felt Mary weaved in. 
In 1939 England entered into the war that was growing in Europe. Mary, young and eager to do more than attend a boarding school and learn how to be a hostess, registers to help in war efforts without informing anyone in her life. But instead of rolling bandages and cooling off the foreheads of soldiers as she imagined, Mary is assigned to teach at a school. Unhappy, at first, with this assignment Mary quickly takes to the children before London ships them off to the countrysides for safety. Except disabled and colored children are kept in London so she begs and pleads with Tom, the man in charge, to keep teaching those children. Tom complies - mostly because of his growing affection for Mary. Tom's roommate, Alastair, reacted much the same way Mary did to the start of war. He jumped at the opportunity to be part of the effort and enlisted, much to Tom's dismay. Off Alastair went and was quickly introduced to the harsh realities of war and the behaviors and bullying it can foster. As war progresses, much to the surprise of England and then the world, Mary becomes entrenched deeper in the efforts to help with the aftermath of the nightly bombings that are taking place in London and the children who have been left behind. War is no respecter of persons and Mary's privileged life doesn't matter. Alastair, stuck on an island - literally - fighting the war - barely - is trying to keep his men together while wondering if he can ever have a normal and real life when this war business is finished. Tom, not willing to engage with the idea of war, tolerates Mary's involvement and longs for the day it will cease and life can be as it is again. Round and round they all go and where they stop nobody knows. 
Cleave, who hit a home run with Little Bee, has authored other titles before releasing this one. I've only read Little Bee and now this title. They are vastly different stories and so to compare them in any way is unfair to Cleave and to the books themselves. However, I remember reading Little Bee and being so moved along by the story that I didn't want to put it down. This title I put down on purpose every so often because I was bored at times. It just didn't engage me as I expected it would have, as I think it should have. While Cleave spent time developing the characters, Mary still felt especially empty and flat to me. Perhaps that was the intention, she was after all a entitled, spoiled young woman at the start of the war. There was nothing special enough about the story to keep me thinking about it after I would close it. All in all I am glad to have read it but I don't think I will be able to recall much about it down the road should someone ask.
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I was somewhat reluctant about this book, as I've read many WW2 books lately and I was a bit bored with the subject. I didn't know what kind of war book it was going to be and was surprised by the story.

Young Mary North drops out of finishing school in Switzerland as soon as she hears war has been declared, telegraphs the Home Office asking for a job and rushes to London. There, she finds out that she will be teaching young children, as most of the teachers are joining the war.

Rich and kind of useless, she does manage to be quite a good teacher, especially to young Zachary, the only black boy in the class, son of an American jazz musician. However, that's not what the other teachers think, so they fire her as soon as possible.

Trying to get her job back, she meets Tom Shaw and falls in love with him. But when Tom is killed in an air raid, her whole world falls apart. 

The two main points of the story are the war seen from the city, as in Mary's life and the other side of the story, focused on Alistair, Tom's friend who is in the trenches. This is the scary war part.

Mary and Tom start a relationship as they write letters to each other, but will it survive the war?

I really liked this book, but I have to give it 3 stars because it's so slow. There are parts that -for me- could have been much more agile (Alistair in the island, for example)
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I would like to give 3 1/2 stars.
I have read all of Chris Cleave's books but I'm afraid this was the one I enjoyed the least. The rest of my book group thoroughly enjoyed it and one member came armed with all the wonderful quotes that had appealed to her, but it didn't excite me.

I have procrastinated with this review because I'm not exactly sure what it was about the book that dropped it to three (and a half) stars. A lot happens, and I'm wondering if I found the transitions a bit chunky. The flow of a book is always very important to me. I also related to some of the characters more than others, which could have affected my response.
 
We were lucky to meet Chris Cleave at our Literary festival and it was fascinating to hear how he had drawn from his grandfather's experiences during WWII, when he was stationed in Malta, some of which he used in the narrative.

I loved the vibrant character of Mary; she is from a wealthy family but throws herself into the war effort. She had fancied herself as a spy but takes on the role of teacher with enthusiasm. Her students end up being the children rejected from the country evacuations - children with disabilities and colour.
The two other main characters were her boss, Tom, an administrator in education, and his artistic friend, Alistair. Neither of these characters interested me as much as Mary, but both of them play an important part in her life.
There is also a side story around one of Mary's pupils, Zach, a black boy whose father is a minstrel in the Minstrel Show in London. Zach is one of the children rejected from the countryside, probably dyslexic, and Mary develops a special fondness for him.

Judging from the reactions of my friends I would highly recommend this book, don't take any notice of my views, I was definitely in the minority :)
 
Previously read:
Little Bee (The Other Hand) - 4 stars
Incendiary - 5 stars
Gold - 4 stars
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Great characters full of charm and flaws doing the best they can in wartime.
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This started as an almost light-hearted look at the beginning of WW2 when nobody took it too seriously, especially London's bright young things.  The language is arch and reflects the attitudes of the time, which takes a bit of getting used to.  We follow three young people and the way the war changes their lives.  This book is wonderfully written and I found the storyline gripping.
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Thank you for the opportunity to review this publication.
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