Review: When We Were Young & Brave by Hazel Gaynor

I have been a long time fan of Hazel Gaynor, I have loved all of her books and was thrilled to see this book coming up for release.

This one sounded a little different than her typical books, but still a similar time period just a different location. I couldn’t wait to see how that all translated in this story and was thrilled when I was asked to review it!

Earlier this year I read a novel set during the Japanese occupation of China in WWII which was a very new piece of history for me and I was eager to read more and this book sounded like it would offer not only Gaynor’s breathtaking story telling but also some new history for me to explore!


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. (summary from Goodreads)


Let me just tell you how wonderful this book was! Gaynor always writes so well and creates memorable, unique characters and settings and this book was no exception! I adored every minute of it! It was a story that I didn’t want to end but yet felt content and satisfied when it did. For me personally, my favorite Gaynor book was The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, but this one came in a close second.

One of the reasons I favored this book so much was the historical time period. While the WWII time period is heavily represented in historical fiction, the perspective of the British and Americans in China during the war felt new and refreshing. There was a lot for me to enjoy historically in this novel but the characters also came alive under Gaynor’s words and I loved getting to know them as well as the historical aspects of this story.

The use of the two duel POVs was really interesting too. I thought Elspeth and Nancy telling the story through their own POVs really helped give the reader a more complete understanding of the time period as well as the feelings about the war. The commitment level of Gaynor to not only research this topic but to also tell the stories of Elspeth and Nancy was evident throughout the novel and I commend her for writing some a complete and satisfying story.

This book was a little on the longish side (about 450 pages) but I didn’t feel like it was a long drawn out story. It was full of history and heart and I savored it rather than rushing through it to get to the end. I enjoyed the characters but the history and setting were what really hooked me. There was atmosphere with a flair of the exotic that really hooked me. If you love historical fiction, this is one that you do not want to miss!

Book Info and Rating

Paperback, 448 pages

Published October 6th 2020 by William Morrow Paperbacks

ISBN006299526X (ISBN13: 9780062995261)

Free review copy provided by publisher, William Morrow, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.

Rating: 5 stars

Genre: historical fiction


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