NetGalley provided an advance copy of “Everyone Brave is Forgiven” for this review.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven is a novel told from two perspectives: that of Mary North, a beautiful scion of English society who is desperate to take part in the war effort, and Alistair Heath, a young man who reluctantly enlists.
Mary, much to her parents’ horror, goes to the war office seeking employ as a teacher. Once she reports to the school, she is disheartened to learn that the principal does not actually intend to assign her to a class. When the teacher leaves with a group of students being evacuated to the countryside, Mary immediately seeks to charm her temporary replacement into giving her a job. Lucky for her, the principal’s replacement is a young man named Tom, who offers Mary a teaching job in London proper—her charges being all of the students deemed unimportant enough to remain in London. Rather inevitably, Tom and Mary fall in love.
Alistair, stationed in Malta as a squadron commander, returns to London on a brief leave. In typical Cleave fashion, the reader follows the parallel stories of Alistair and Mary, skeptical as to how believable a connection can be bridged, until, upon his leave, he is reunited with his roommate—who just so happens to be Tom. In typical Cleave fashion, he connects the two stories with seamless expertise.
Though the book stands capably alone as a moving wartime novel, it is also a study on human relationships. Mary, tasked with teaching the band of “misfits” left in London, forms a connection with a young black child named Zachary, which stands frequent tests of disapproval, makes for a poignant subplot, and allows the reader to truly understand the depth of Mary’s character beyond her role as a member of England’s elite. Though to reveal it would be to spoil a large part of the book, Alistair has an experience on Malta that serves to demonstrate his own strength of character; Cleave manages to make both characters both flawed and impossible to dislike.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven did not leave the same impression on me that Little Bee did, and it hasn’t crept its way into my Top Ten, but it certainly is a touching, beautifully written story well worth a read.