Title: We Must Be Brave
Author: Frances Liardet
“‘I don’t care what happens after the war,’ I told him. ‘That’s not the point. You can put her where you want, but I’ll go with her. She needs me now. Me. Do you see? We’re the same, Pamela and I. I was a child like her. A child who lost everything in the world.'”
We Must Be Brave is a novel which begins on the cusp of World War II. When newly married Ellen Parr finds a little girl asleep in the back of an empty bus, she immediately wants to find the child’s parents. However, when it transpires that no one knows who Pamela is, Ellen takes her into her home to look after her. Having previously told her husband that she does not want children, Pamela does something strange to Ellen – she wriggles herself into a part of her heart Ellen thought she was fine with being empty, and it quickly transpires that while she doesn’t want children, she does want Pamela. But Pamela’s real parents are still out there, and when she is eventually taken away, Ellen is not quite sure she can handle the grief.
Having read The Nightingale at the end of last year, We Must Be Brave piqued my interest and I was excited to hopefully enjoy it as much as Hannah’s novel. As a protagonist, Ellen is both lovable and compelling – throughout the novel we see her change and grow, and while it’s obvious she is a strong-willed woman to begin with, it’s clear even she could not anticipate what Pamela’s presence would do to her.
Flitting between her life with Pamela and her childhood leading up to meeting her husband, Liardet does a great job of showing how little details and small events can ricochet throughout the rest of our lives. Liardet’s characters in this novel are also hard not to praise; there are a plethora of secondary characters, each with their own individual personalities and traits which help make the main story feel even more plausible and real. In particular, I liked Lucy and William who both provided Ellen with support, even when she wasn’t aware of it.
I do have one small criticism of the book, and that’s just that it didn’t linger on Pamela quite as much as I would have hoped; the book is very much about Ellen and her story, and while I loved being with her as she encountered all the obstacles in her life, I would have liked to have seen both women’s lives in more detail. Not only how Pamela affected Ellen, but how the reverse was also true.
For me, books become impactful when they concern perhaps the least extraordinary stories. I admire Liardet’s ability to take Ellen who, while shrouded in the devastating events of the second world war, finds her own battle to contend with – that of a mother’s love which should never have been. Pamela and Ellen’s story is both touching and compelling and I love this story about love, kindness, friendship, and the bonds which remain with us for our entire lives.