Everyone Brave Is Forgiven Book Review

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven: Book Review by Dinh.

4.5 stars


London, 1939.

The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.

Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.

Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.

And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.

Synopsis from hardcover, 432 pages, copyright 2016, and published by Simon and Schuster.


Everyone Brave Is Forgiven Book
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Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is the first book I have read by this author and what a lovely introduction! This book has been on my radar since last year and I am so glad that I picked it up recently.

This historical fiction, set in World War II was not what I had expected. After reading so many historical fiction set in WWII I did begin to wonder how it will captivate me and hold my attention. Rest assured, the book stands out from the others in this genre.

What I loved most and the most memorable thing about the book is how witty the dialogue is. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it made me laugh. Though the backdrop is somber, the story is heartwarming.

Here’s why it’s so good!

Story Line

At the heart of this book is a love story. This book was inspired by Cleave’s grandparents love letters to each other.

I love that the book is character driven and focuses on the three main characters.

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is set in London and Malta and follows the lives of Mary, Tom and Alistair. Mary and Alistair sign up for the war effort once war is declared.

Mary is assigned to being a teacher and meets Tom, who runs the school education district. Tom falls in love with Mary but when Mary is introduced to Alistair, Tom’s flatmate, a love triangle is formed.

Though the story is about love and friendship and what that means, it is also about bravery. In war time, what it means to brave is different than at peace time.

Writing Style

Cleave has a great style of writing! His prose is so spot on for this type of novel.

There’s a nice flow in his writing. The story starts off with an optimistic light tone as the three main characters are swept into the war, where there’s lots of uncertainty. Mary is even saying how much she is enjoying the war at the beginning of the book… Mary’s youthful exuberance changes as the war continues.  Later, the tone is more somber but still hopeful.

Cleave has nailed the dialogue for this time period. The conversations are witty and I love how the conversations are marked by that time period. You can really appreciate how they make fun of each with the slang and colloquialism of that time.

The novel does use some racist language of the time which can be seen as offensive, but I value the historical accuracy and appreciate the correct vocabulary that reflects the history of that era.

Stack of Books


Not only will the wit win you over but so will the characters!

The strength of this novel is definitely the well developed characters.

The three main characters Mary North, Tom Shaw, and Alistair Heath are complex and Cleave adds a layer to them that make them so realistic and you can appreciate the characters’ perspective.

  • Mary North

I really liked Mary North. Mary is 18 years old, an optimist, and a strong character. She is aristocrat’s daughter and doesn’t want to perpetuate the class structure. She is brave in her view of life and wants to change the world.

  • Alistair Heath

Alistair is a character that you can’t help but like. He’s helpful and unselfish. Always wanting to do the right thing, he will put others before his needs.  The men under his command like him because of this reason.

  • Tom Shaw

Tom is Mary’s lover and best friend to Alistair, who is an art restorer. Tom is a nice guy. His relationship with Mary is not highlight of the story but it’s Tom and Alistair friendship that is most poignant.

I also liked the supporting characters in the book as well. Specifically, I enjoyed Mary’s friendship with Zachary and how that developed. In addition, I liked Mary’s relationship with her friend Hilda.



I liked the journey with Mary, Tom, and Alistair and how they changed as the war progressed. It’s nice to ‘walk’ with the characters seeing and feeling all the impact of the war.

I enjoyed Cleave’s portray of love and friendship in times of war. With war, nothing is certain and the chaos and uncertainty brings in a realism that I liked.

I liked the ending very much. It is poignant in its message. The scars of war will remind us how fragile life can be.

My Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this beautifully written, witty and unforgettable historical fiction.

I am glad that I read this gem.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is definitely a must read for historical fiction fans. If you liked Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See or The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, then read this book!


Here’s a video with Chris Cleave talking about what his novel Everyone Brave is Forgiven and how his grandparents’ love letters inspired the novel.

Read the first chapter of Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

15 thoughts on “Everyone Brave Is Forgiven Book Review

  1. Sounds like you enjoyed this one! I’m often wary of ww2 novels set in the UK, because they often romanticise the period waaay more than they should. From what you’ve said though, this one dodges that! 🙂

    1. Hi Cee!
      I think Everyone Brave is Forgiven has a good balance of not romanticizing the war and also not making the book so grim that it leaves you with a heavy heart and mind.
      Mary’s journey was particularly poignant in showing the opportunities that war gave women and the heart breaking reality of war and how it destroy lives randomly. No one is protected.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

    1. Hi Paul!
      I am so happy to hear that you like my reviews.
      I know what you are saying about having more time to read. You can only do what you can.
      I would feel lost now if I didn’t have a book to read.
      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  2. Love and war, and with witty dialogues…I’d love to read this. I’m drawn to this period, but am reluctant to read it. It’s rare that I do, and I always choose carefully just because it’s such a dark time. Though it’s somber, I like that it’s heartwarming, too. I’m intrigued, Dinh!

    1. Hi Lonna!
      I think you’ll enjoy this one because you’ll enjoy the witty dialogues. Cleave is an awesome writer and I think you’ll enjoy the themes of friendship and love.

  3. I have heard of this book before and I have to admit it was the title that originally caught my attention. I didn’t know anything else about it until now. I just finished a book set in WW2 as well and the time period is interesting to me because I can’t quite fathom what it would have been like to live through the war.

    1. Hello Olivia!
      I can’t imagine living in a time of war, especially a World War.
      The time period really interest me too, because in war, we test who we are. I’d like to think I would be brave but I am not sure for definite.
      Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a memorable book and I hope you get a chance to read it.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

    1. Hi Melinda!
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      I love historical fiction for the same reason too. I like to be entertained and learn something new as well.

      Thanks for stopping by at Arlene’s Book Club. 🙂

  4. Hiya, Dinh – thanks for sharing your thoughts about this book with us. SO much more reliable than just reading the publishers’ promos.

    WW2 is will be in the minds of the UK folk for generations yet and has been used as backdrop for many tales of drama, romance, etc…as ya know.

    I knew people of that generation who fell in love, were separated and bombed, and who went on to live long years of happiness after. For them, WW2 will always have a kind of fond remembrance which is so good when you think of the alternative memories that so many unfortunate people ended up with.

    It’s nice to come across any tales that can help share the joys of that period, not just the bad things. Incidentally – I’ve got a small piece of the harbour wall from Malta that was bombed out in WW2 – Malta was the most bomber place on Earth then.

    Catch ya soon – Andre

    1. Hello Andre!
      Nice to hear from you. 🙂
      I am surprised by how good this book is. It’s another book set in WW2. I do think that real life events that inspire writers to tell the story makes the book interesting and give it a sense of authenticity.
      I did enjoy how Cleaves made the book historically accurate. He nailed it for me.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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