Wednesday, February 05, 2020
22. Everyone Brave is Forgiven
First sentence: War was declared at eleven-fifteen and Mary North signed up at noon.
Premise/plot: Mary North is the heroine of Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven. This historical romance is set primarily in London during the early years of the Second World War—1939-1942. Miss North is assigned a class to teach—teaching doesn’t come to mind like nursing, driving an ambulance, doing factory work or farm labor as being a vital part of the war effort, but it would free male teachers to fight in the war. She is a hit with her students, but not with her employer. So when her class is evacuated from London to the countryside, she’s told to stay behind, essentially fired. But she feels teaching is her calling, plus she’s too proud to tell her insufferable mother that she’s lost her job. She pretends to teach until she can persuade a superintendent to hire her. That superintendent is Tom Shaw. He falls head over heels in love with. Her. He’s in awe that the oh so amazing, incredibly beautiful Mary North could like like him. But she does...even when she falls hard and fast for his roommate, Alistair Heath, an enlisted soldier home on leave. The undeniable attraction is mutual and unfortunate. Both love and respect Tom too much to even hint to the other aloud that there is something there, a spark of love. But the war is vicious and no happy endings are assured. Mary’s “best” friend is a plain Jane who has repeatedly been hurt by Mary. Any guy that has potentially been interested in her, drops her when they meet Mary. Mary has kissed many of her friend’s fellows or suitors or dates.
Forgiveness is a theme of the novel.
My thoughts: I found this a super compelling read. I loved the historical setting. I loved the focus on teaching. Mary North has a heart for the least of these. This means at this time for black students, physically disabled, and mentally challenged students that have been deemed unteachable and unwanted. They were not evacuated with the others because they were unwanted, unable to be placed with country families. In some cases they were evacuated, then sent back rejected. Mary North’s reputation suffers because she cares about these communities and gets involved beyond teaching them the basics. Readers should be aware that the n word is used liberally throughout. One of her students has a father who is in a minstrel show, she sees his show and is shocked at what she sees and hears. Shocked by how her friends react. She feels that she is alone in seeing them as humans.
I mostly loved, loved, loved the writing. Cleave is quite quotable.
The characters were developed but realistically enough not at all self aware. Mary was blind to her own biases and selfishness. She was clueless to how she was hurting her best friend, clueless to how she was hurting her mother, clueless to the fact that her mother has thoughts, opinions, feelings, dreams. Mary’s compassion is limited. She had a huge heart for her students, but, didn’t extend that heart to her own family and closest friends.
It is not a clean read—both language and situations. Both are probably realistic and true to the times and human nature. But if you’re looking for a clean read, this is not it.
© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews