Finished July 2
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
This historical novel starts with the declaration of war in 1939 by England. Mary North leaves her finishing girl in Switzerland to rush back to England, where her first stop is the War Office where she volunteers. She is initially a bit disappointed to find out she's been posted to teach elementary students. In her first week, they are evacuated to the countryside, but a young black boy, whose American father is playing in a minstrel show in London connects with her and, despite being separated, the two maintain a connection. Mary finds within herself a previously unrecognized impulse to fight for those who can't fight for themselves and connects with education department administrator Tom Shaw to fight for a chance to continue teaching.
As Tom relents and offers her a position to teach the children who have been either sent back from evacuation or whose parents have brought them back, she finds a new path for herself. She and Tom also connect in a more personal way.
Tom is also struggling with his role. He doesn't want to fight, but after his roommate Alistair signs up, he feels guilt for not doing so as well. When Alistair, home on leave, meets Mary, there is a spark, and though they both fight the attraction, it is there nonetheless.
As Mary continues to find a way to make a difference in the war at home, Alistair finds himself in Malta, leading a team of soldiers to survive and work with the locals despite German blockades and bombardments.
This is a riveting tale that had me glued to my seat as I read. A story of friendship, of personal development, of social change. It shows the less humane side of behaviour in England during the war years.
Cleave drew from his own family history during the same time period, with his grandparents' real lives informing the lives of his characters. A great read.