Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

January 8, 2017

Winter break has always been a time of rest and relaxation for overstressed students, and I desperately grasped onto the opportunity to indulge in my own laziness during the two week break. While my peers bragged of ice skating and tropical vacations, I spent the entirety of the break covered by a fuzzy blanket in bed, armed with my cell phone and a pile of novels, which I could not properly enjoy during  the pressure-filled school year.

Given to me as a Christmas present (thanks Brian), “Everyone Brave is Forgiven” by Chris Cleave seemed like the typical distressing WWII novel. With its depressing introspective title and dark cover embellished with the silhouette of hovering fighter planes above London, the book  made it difficult for me to imagine that reading it would be anything other than a painful experience full of tears and untimely deaths.

To my surprise, while the book had a fair amount of both tears and untimely deaths, it is  also one of the funniest novels I have ever read. The storyline is  enthralling, and I read the entire novel in one sleepless night. Each page brought new sarcastic banter and meaningful interactions between the characters.

The protagonists, a young, determined schoolteacher named Mary North and her lover, Tom Shaw, are equipped with an incredibly offensive and sarcastic sense of humor that seems completely inappropriate for a book about one of the most heartbreaking time periods in history. The dry humor left the tragedies of the novel from being too teary and dramatic, and kept me from becoming bored.

Left with a group comprised of crippled, mentally disabled or forgotten children who were unable to evacuate the constantly bombed city, Mary takes it upon herself to take care of those less fortunate. In particular, a little African boy named Zachary grows close to Mary after his experience of racism and abuse.

Mary’s closest friend, Hilda, simply cannot understand why Mary would associate herself with such wretched company and the book follows the tumultuous friendship of the two women as much as it delves into the romantic relationship between Mary and Tom. Spontaneously enlisting, Tom’s close friend Alistair also struggles with handling the pressure and pain of fighting in the war.

I thoroughly enjoyed the bright and witty conversations between the characters. While I was irked with the sudden switch of direction in the plot and needless addition of new romance halfway through the novel, the humor and eloquence in the writing were well worth my disappointment of how Cleave ended the story.

Somehow, while still addressing racism, drug addiction and violence, the novel was able to bring to life a group of characters that are intent on making it through the pain and bloodshed of World War IIwith their sarcasm and spirit alone. Leaving me both chuckling and tearing up,  “Everyone Brave is Forgotten” is definitely a book I would reread on another idle winter break reading spree.

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