Reading guide for Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

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Everyone Brave is Forgiven

by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave X
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2017, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Both Mary and Alistair sign up to be part of the war effort almost immediately after war is declared. What are their motivations for doing so? How does each of them serve? Why is Mary surprised by her assignment?
  2. When Mary first begins spending time with Tom, she describes him as "Thoughtful. Interesting. Compassionate." (p. 41) What did you think of him? Discuss Mary's relationship with Tom. Are the two well suited for each other? Why, or why not?
  3. In a letter, Mary writes, "I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season." (p. 245) Why do you think Chris Cleave chose to take the title of his novel from this line? Does your interpretation of the title change when you read it in the full context of the quote? In what ways?
  4. Mary's student Zachary makes a big impression on her. Why? Discuss their relationship. Why does Mary write to Zachary after he has been evacuated to the countryside? How do her letters help both of them?
  5. While Alistair is on leave, he returns to London and finds "there was a new way of moving that he could not seem to weave himself into." (p. 100) Why does Alistair have difficulty adjusting to life in London? Why does Alistair put off seeing Tom? Do you think he is right in doing so? Explain your answer.
  6. Early in the novel, while Mary is with Tom, she is "thinking how much she was enjoying the war." (p. 86) Why might Mary enjoy the war? What new freedoms are afforded to her in wartime?
  7. During one of her conversations with her mother, Mary notices that "There was a sadness in her mother's eyes. Mary wondered whether it had always been there, becoming visible only now that she was attuned to sorrow's frequency." (p. 236) Describe Mary's relationship with her mother. Is Mary's mother supportive? Explain your answer. Why might Mary's experiences during the war make her more "attuned to sorrow's frequency"? Do these experiences help Mary better relate to her mother? Why, or why not?
  8. Alistair tells Mary "Nobody is brave, the first time in an air raid." (p. 164) How do each of the main characters react the first time that they experience an air raid? Were any of them brave? In what ways? Were you surprised by the way any of them reacted to the bombs?
  9. When Mary meets with Cooper to discuss going back to work, she tells him "We needn't put this city back the way we found it." (p. 228) What prompts Mary to make her comment and what does she mean by it? How has life in London changed as a result of the war? Have any of those changes been positive? Why might Mary be reluctant to return to the status quo?
  10. Explain the significance of Tom's jar of blackberry jam. When Alistair is injured, he worries that "if he opened it, the dust would get into everything he minded about." (p. 302) What does the jam represent and why doesn't Alistair open the jar? Is Simonson right to think that "to eat the jam would be a betrayal." (p. 393) Why? Think about your own belongings. Do you own anything like the jam jar that has special significance? Tell your book club about it.
  11. Mary tells Alistair "My mother thinks [happiness] isn't even a word, in wartime." (p. 416) Do you think Mary's mother is right? Why, or why not? Are there any moments of happiness in Everyone Brave is Forgiven? What are they? Discuss them with your book club.
  12. What were your initial impressions of Hilda? Did they change as you learned more about her? If so, why? Discuss Hilda's friendship with Mary. Do you think the women are good friends to each other? Explain your answer.
  13. While Alistair is on leave, he, Tom, Mary and Hilda go to see Zachary's father's show at the Lyceum. How does each of them react to the show? Does this give you any insight into their characters? Why is Mary ashamed to go over and say hello to Zachary's father during the interval?
  14. After seeing the effects of one of the air raids, Mary "knew, now, why her father had not spoken of the last war, nor Alistair of this. It was hardly fair on the living." (p. 268) What does Mary see that leads to her have this insight? What effect does not speaking of his experiences in war have on Alistair?


Enhance Your Book Club

  1. In describing Mary, Tom tells Alistair, "She might be the only person in this city apart from you and me who understands there are many ways to serve." (p. 32) Aside from enlisting, what other ways are there to assist in the war effort? Would you have helped in any of the ways that Mary does? Which ones appealed most to you? Why?
  2. One of Mary's first duties as a schoolmistress is to assist in evacuating the children in her class to the countryside. Learn more about the London Evacuation by visiting the Imperial War Museum's interactive site. Discuss what you learn with your book club. Why might families choose to opt out of the evacuation?
  3. Prior to enlisting, Alistair works as an art restorer at the Tate. On a visit back to London, he visits the museum with Mary. When they arrive "they saw that the bombing had blown its roofs off." (p. 415) Visit the Tate's online archive to see photos of the bomb damaged museum. Then, take a virtual tour of the museum's collections to learn more about the types of art that Alistair might have restored


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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