Book Review: When We Were Young and Brave by Hazel Gaynor

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

TW: confinement, mild torture, sexual assault

When We Were Young and Brave by Hazel Gaynor was my favorite read in January and a major backlist read. Historical fiction is saturated with WWII stories, but this one really stands out. Set in China during the Japanese occupation, When We Were Young and Brave tells the amazing story of a group of teachers and students who were prepared for everything but war.

The story is told from two perspectives – Elspeth Kent and Nancy Plummer. Y’all know multiple POV books are my favorite and this was no exception. I loved witnessing events unfold through the eyes of both an adult and a child. Gaynor did a fantastic job crafting two strong female characters and using them to tell what I think is a relatively unknown story. The strength portrayed by both Elspeth and Nancy throughout the novel was moving and heartbreaking. Elspeth, along with her fellow teachers, did everything possible during the occupation to be positive and continue teaching. Nancy was forced to grow up and become a young lady under the watchful and threatening eyes of Japanese soldiers. Both carried themselves with grace even in the worst situation.

This book is based on true events that I had never heard of before. I found myself going down a rabbit hole to learn more about the people, Chefoo School, and the occupation. I was fascinated to read about what these individuals went through and how they suffered yet emerged strong, but forever changed.

I would recommend this to any historical fiction reader looking for a change of scenery. New historical fiction readers would love this too because it isn’t quite as heavy as other WWII reads.

Thanks to Netgalley and William Morrow for my eARC. All opinions are my own.

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