Monday, October 17, 2016

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Title: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
Author: Chris Cleave
Read by: Luke Thompson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 12 hours and 35 minutes
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a gripping World War II narrative set in Great Britain that focuses on four unlikely heroes.  Tom and Alistair are flat mates when war is first declared.  Tom is married to his job in education and believes in its importance during times of war.  Alistair helps with hiding England’s priceless paintings and then joins the fight.  While over in France, he quickly discovers that war is hell.  He’s able to keep up a good front, while inside he is shell shocked.

Mary North volunteers for the fight and is assigned a role as a teacher, taking the place of the men that have gone oversees.  She is not sure how she will like it at first, but soon discovers that she has a gift for teaching and that she loves to teach in an unconventional way.   Her first week of school, she meets a young African American student, Zachary.  Zachary is sent to the countryside with all of the children to protect them from air raids, but after a tragedy, is sent back to London.  Mary convinces Tom to allow her to open a school back up again for the few children still in London.

The story starts out as a tale of relationships and a plucky girl trying to start a school, but slowly devolves into a much deeper story about life and loss. This mimics the world at the time thinking that it will be a quick war and worried more about getting a date and then slowly dissolving into the horror and realty of the coldness and terror of war. The descriptive writing for many of these scenes was fantastic.  Listening to the audiobook on my way to and from work, I could truly picture the various scenes and that helped to strike the wonder and horror that I believe the author was looking for.  The description of the Blitz of London was terrifying.  I can’t imagine how people survived and got up and went to work each day with death waiting imminently.

I loved the dialogue in this book. The witty repartee between characters and in the letters between characters cracked me up.  It had the particular humor that British are so well known for and that I immensely enjoy.

I liked the sound effects used in this audiobook from the jarring air raid sirens that started the book to the great phone call special effects that sounded just like someone talking on an old fashioned phone, they really enhanced the experience of the audiobook listener/reader.  Luke Thompson was a good narrator.

This novel had a slow start, but the slow start led up to epic scenes throughout the novel. It also allowed for great character development.  The characters that ended the story were not the same as when the story started.  The descriptions of the epic scenes were cinematic.  I could totally visualize the scenes from listening to the descriptions and could imagine this book being a great movie.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven also tackled very weighty issues such alcoholism, drug abuse, posttraumatic stress syndrome, and racism.  The issues are not solved, but they are looked into with a clear eye and with much more depth than I am used to seeing in a historical fiction novel.

I was interested to learn that Chris Cleave was inspired to write this novel after reading love letters that his grandparents had written each other during WWII.  I wish the audiobook would have included an afterword with more detail on this.  Luckily I did find an NPR story about it at this link:

My favorite quotes:
“To be in love was to understand how alone one had been before.  It was to know that if one were ever alone again, there would be exemption from the agony of it.  It wasn’t the happiest of feeling.”

“This helpful war.  It makes us better people and then it tries to kill us.”

“The young see the world they wish for.  The old see the world as it is.”

“But what good is it to teach a child to count, if you don’t show him that he counts for something?”

Overall, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a novel I won’t soon forget and is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  I highly recommend it!


  1. Excellent quotes, Laura! This historical novel sounds very good, and memorable as well. Wonderful review, as usual.

  2. I do like the sound of this one. Thanks!