It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.
Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.
Chris Cleave has written the most unromantic WWII romance ever in the history of WWII romances.
That’s a compliment by the way.
The Goodreads’ summary above makes it seem all about the love triangle (which really doesn’t exist, by the way…not in the way we think of love triangles), but Cleave dives deep into so many social norms of 1930s-40s that most books of this nature don’t bother to look at.
The author uses historical prejudicial words throughout his narrative. Words like the n-word, mongol, retarded. Words that today are incredibly offensive, but in the 30’s were ordinary in context. But those prejudices are exactly the point Cleave is trying to make. He focuses heavily on the fact that healthy white children were rushed out to the countryside while blacks and mentally-ill children were mostly left to fend for themselves.
We also get an incredible portrayal of PTSD (or shell-shock, as it was known then), from multiple characters–and not just those fighting on the front. We see drug addiction, depression, suicide–and all the horrible stigma that went along with it.
Chris Cleave kicks off #MentalHealthMonth with a beautiful, historical not-so-romantic romance that bears the ugly truth about WWII. Everyone Brave is Forgiven comes out tomorrow, May 3, and while it is brave, it certainly does not need forgiveness.
NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases May 3.