Audiobook Mini-Review: When We Were Young And Brave

9 Nov

When We Were Young And Brave is a fictional account of real life events surrounding the Chefoo School in China during the Japanese occupation in WWII. The Japanese took control of the British-run missionary school in December of 1941. At first the school continued, albeit with a number of restrictions and privations. But soon the Japanese moved the teachers and students from one place to another until they were in an internment camp. The bravery, resiliency, and dogged will to survive beautifully unfolds under the masterful hand of Hazel Gaynor. I have read a few of Gaynor’s novels, but in my opinion this one surpasses them all. The rich historical detail brought this reader into a place and time I knew little about. The story is told through two points of view, Elspeth, a teacher with the school, and Nancy a young student. Their voices told the story with depth and meaning. There are hard things in this book — the cruelty of the Japanese guards, the horrible treatment of the Chinese population, the near starvation conditions, and extreme hygienic neglect — but there are moments of hope and perseverance. A sunflower growing in an unlikely spot, the Girl Guides program the young girls clung to, the many kindnesses between prisoners — all brought a sense that life would some day return to normal. I admit to Googling to find out what was fact and fiction and found that Gaynor presented an accurate and moving look into the historical events. This book will stay with me a long time. I just wish I had read it with a book club — it certainly demands discussion. A general market offering, When We Were Young And Brave is a clean read, but as I said, with some very realistic depictions of what really went on in the camps. I rate it a very highly recommended read! Specific to the audiobook: the two narrators were excellent! I found they brought an authenticity to the two characters.

Very Highly Recommended.

Audience: Adults.

(I purchased the audiobook from Audible. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

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

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.

Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning New York Times, USA Today, Globe and Mail and Irish Times bestselling historical novelist. Her debut novel, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, was awarded the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year, and her novels have since been shortlisted for the 2016 and 2020 Irish Book Awards, the 2019 HWA Gold Crown Award, the 2020 RNA Historical Novel of the Year and the 2021 Grand Prix du Roman Historique. Her latest novel, WHEN WE WERE YOUNG & BRAVE/THE BIRD IN THE BAMBOO CAGE was a national bestseller in the USA. Hazel’s co-written novels with Heather Webb have all been published to critical acclaim, winning and being shortlisted for several international awards. 

Hazel was selected as a 2015 WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors. She is published in twenty-five territories and her books have been translated into eighteen languages. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland with her husband and two children and is represented by Michelle Brower of Trellis Literary Management, USA.

For more information, visit

%d bloggers like this: