When We Were Young & Brave: A Novel by Hazel Gaynor, Narrated by Rosie Jones and Imogen Church
Published October 6th 2020 by HarperAudio, William Morrow Paperbacks
The Bird in the Bamboo Cage: Published September 2nd 2020 by HarperCollins
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have wanted to read this book for awhile and getting my hands on the audiobook, I decided this was the time. This is a story that I was not aware of, but it makes sense and I don’t know why it surprised me. When the US and Britain declare war on Japan, any citizens from those countries, including the British Commonwealth who are living in China are now prisoners of Japan, the country who has taken control. The students and the teachers of Cheefoo missionary school are first kept at the school, but throughout the story get moved to other camps. This is the story of one of the teachers and students.
This is historical fiction at its best. The story is narrated from two POVs, that of Elspeth Kent a teacher who is preparing to return to England to help with the war effort when the school becomes their prison. The second is ten year old Nancy Plummer (aka Plum). Plum and her friends Dorothy (Sprout) and Joan (Mouse) are students at the Chefoo Missionary School, they have always felt safe, secure and been well looked after. Suddenly the children and staff are cut off from their loved ones and the outside world by the Japanese army. The girls look to their teachers and their training as Girl Guides to get them through this terrible time. Although not physically abused or punished, the children deal with lack of food, poor weather, oppression, disease and seeing things that children that age should not have to see. This book is based on true events and that realism is there in this story. My heart broke for these teachers and students who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There were so many themes in this book, courage, strength, and determination to survive. The Brownies and Girl Guide theme is original and refreshing as it demonstrates its importance to the young girls who were facing unspeakable events. I know that guiding is not as big an organization today as in the past, but perhaps this book might bring it back to the forefront showing the values it helps young girls develop. This book shows the strength of the human spirit, the strong bond and trust formed between teachers and students, and the importance of lifelong friendship. Hazel Gaynor’s books do not disappoint with her attention to detail as well as her thorough research which shines through. I could feel the pain and heartbreak of these characters, see the environment, and hear the cries of the prisoners and farmers. This is definitely a five star read for me, one that I certainly recommend to those who enjoy Historical Fiction.
The narration of this book by Rosie Jones and Imogen Church was excellent. The two voices were able to capture both the old and young adults both male and female as well as those of children. The expression and tone fit the story and emotion in a way that it made me feel like I was there, seeing and hearing this story unfold. If you enjoy audiobooks, then this is one I would recommend you listen to. An excellent performance.
About the Book: 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 & 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.