Everyone brave is forgiven by Chris Cleave
Sceptre, 2016. ISBN 9781473618701
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. When England declares war on Nazi Germany, Mary North - a privileged young woman from an influential family immediately offers her services to the War Office. Imagining a posting in espionage, she is surprised to find herself assigned a teaching role at a school in a poor area of London.
Education administrator Tom and art curator Alistair are best friends who share a comfortably disordered flat until Alistair enlists in the army and Tom is left feeling displaced and uneasy after the change of circumstance.
Mary and Tom are brought together by her posting and a relationship develops. Mary shows great character, throwing herself into her new role, doing her utmost to teach and care for the unwanted and disabled students left behind after their peers have been evacuated. Tom struggles with his civilian status living in a city being destroyed by endless bombing, whilst his best friend and most able bodied men are in the services, fighting the Germans.
During the Dunkirk evacuation, Alistair proved himself to be a highly competent Army officer who did his best to ensure the survival and welfare of his men. His world view is dramatically altered by the unimaginable violence of war and he feels uncomfortable and insecure when catching up with Tom when on leave - to meet his new girlfriend Mary and her best friend Dora.
The novel focuses closely on these characters and it is pleasing that the familiar theme of Blitz ravaged England, starved by U-boats and threatened by armies massing across the Channel, can once again form a first rate, interesting tale. Jazz culture is one aspect which is presented differently, with African American performers being treated abominably by society whose ignorance and galling arrogance produces a powerfully confronting style of racism.
Whilst this could be described as a romance, there is great depth in terms of drama and historical detail which should make this appeal to a wider readership. The war is seen to be a great leveller and when aristocratic pretensions are stripped away, decent, likeable and even heroic individuals emerge to do their best to help others traumatised by the conflict.
Similarly, the siege and bombing of Malta - so extreme that it might be considered bordering on exaggeration if it were not completely true, is presented with great attention to detail. The reader appreciates how brave and enduring the Maltese were in resisting an unending attack under almost impossible conditions and how close the allies came to losing the war.
This is an excellent book which suits readers 16+.