Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Review: When We Were Young and Brave by Hazel Gaynor (audio)


Title: When We Were Young and Brave
Author: Hazel Gaynor
Narrator: Rosie Jones, Imogen Church
Published: October 2020, Harper Audio / William Morrow Paperbacks
Length: 11 hours 32 minutes / 448 pages
Source: Audio via Library / Print via TLC BookTours

Their motto was to be prepared, but nothing could prepare them for war. . .

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home sets her unforgettable new novel in China during WWII, inspired by true events surrounding the Japanese Army’s internment of teachers and children from a British-run missionary school.

China, December 1941. Having left an unhappy life in England for a teaching post at a missionary school in northern China, Elspeth Kent is now anxious to return home to help the war effort. But as she prepares to leave China, a terrible twist of fate determines a different path for Elspeth, and those in her charge.

Ten-year-old Nancy Plummer has always felt safe at Chefoo School, protected by her British status. But when Japan declares war on Britain and America, Japanese forces take control of the school and the security and comforts Nancy and her friends are used to are replaced by privation, uncertainty and fear. Now the enemy, and separated from their parents, the children look to their teachers – to Miss Kent and her new Girl Guide patrol especially – to provide a sense of unity and safety.

Faced with the relentless challenges of oppression, the school community must rely on their courage, faith and friendships as they pray for liberation – but worse is to come when they are sent to a distant internment camp where even greater uncertainty and danger await . . .

Inspired by true events, When We Were Young and Brave is an unforgettable novel about impossible choices and unimaginable hardship, and the life-changing bonds formed between a young girl and her teacher in a remote corner of a terrible war.


My thoughts:  I adore Hazel Gaynor's books...I have read every single one of them and fall more in love with her writing with each book. And, I find that they are the perfect books to listen to - her stories just translate so well on audio. My only complaint is that I now have to wait until her next book comes out.

This book was completely captivating right from the start. Even though it takes on such a heavy topic, I still found myself totally engaged in the story. I knew I would enjoy it, but I didn't expect to feel such an emotional connection to the characters as I did. I found that even when I had to put the book down (damn life getting in the way!) I was constantly thinking about the characters and the story and what would happen next. And I couldn't wait to pick it up again but at the same time, I also didn't want to rush through it...this was a book that I did not want to end. 

I loved the way this story was told, alternating between two points of view - Elspeth, a teacher at the school and Nancy, a ten-year-old student. The book is based on the true story of when Japan invaded China during WWII. It shows how the Japanese took over the school and moved the children and teachers around and are eventually taken to an internment camp. This is something I have never read about, despite all the books I've read on WWII.

This book will take you on quite an emotional journey. It was interesting to read this book right now, during our current time, when we are in the middle of a pandemic. It is certainly not the same thing, but it struck me that to some, having to be under restriction is the end of the world. However, I would think if they had to endure what these teachers and students endured they might rethink that.

This book clearly showcases how these girls, at the leadership of their teachers, made it through some very trying times. I loved how they continued to follow the principles of Girl Guides and kept trying to earn badges even while under Japanese control. This kept some normalcy in their life despite the circumstances.

These characters have certainly worked their way into my heart and I won't be forgetting them anytime soon. There is a reason I love Hazel Gaynor's books and this latest one proves it. They are always meticulously researched and beautifully written. This particular one was inspired by the author's own family's story and for that I am so grateful she shared it with us.

Audio thoughts:  This was such a great book to listen to...and Rosie Jones and Imogen Church did such a fantastic job narrating it. The book takes you on an emotional journey, for sure, but both narrators handle the emotions perfectly. Rosie Jones was quite believable as a ten-year-old girl and Imogen Church was great as Elspeth. Their intonations and pacing were spot-on and I found myself mesmerized and completely engaged by this audiobook. 


1 comment

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