By Sophia Whitfield
What does it mean to be brave? In his latest novel Chris Cleave explores this question. Courage teamed with humour gives readers a window into the way the youth coped with the terror of the Second World War.
Mary North is the central, lovable character. She is the daughter of an MP, a sophisticated young lady who lives in Pimlico and has just left finishing school to sign up for wartime duty.
She fancies herself as a spy and is appalled when the War Office asks her to teach. She finds herself in front of a collection of children the countryside has turned away. The colour of their skin and their lack of ability has ensured they have no safety from the threat that hangs over London.
Mary meets Tom Shaw at the War Office. He is in charge of education and finds her the position at the school. Tom has been deemed to be indispensible in London and so must battle his own demons as everyone he knows gets sent off to war. He rallies his spirits until his friend Alistair Heath announces that he has signed up. Before he leaves Tom introduces Alistair to Mary and her prickly friend Hilda. A passion ignites and a triangle of three begins.
With the men away Maryís friendship with Hilda grows. Mary finds herself content with her teaching duties and even a little proud. However the outside world holds a different opinion of her spending time with what they feel are unsavoury characters and her behaviour reflects badly on her family.
While London is under siege, Alistair is sent to Malta where he befriends Simonsons. They share letters from home and attempt to offer each other support through humour to manage the atrocities of war. Hunger, illness and death surround them.
A love story weaves through the terror of war, letters of hope; humour and love punctuate the novel. Loss is all around her as Mary struggles to make sense of her surroundings. Her feisty character and unwillingness to conform make her a terrific heroine.
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