Title: Dear Mrs Bird
Author: AJ Pearce
Published: April 10th 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Historical, World War II
Rating: 3.5 stars
London, 1940. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance – but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Friend magazine.
Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. Emmy finds herself dismissing problems from lovelorn, grief-stricken and morally conflicted readers in favour of those who fear their ankles are unsightly or have trouble untangling lengths of wool. But soon the thought of desperate women going unanswered becomes too much to bear and Emmy decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back . . .
Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to female friendship, Blitz spirit, the kindness of strangers and the art of letter-writing itself.
1940’s London during the uncertain and dangerous times of the Blitz is carefully brought to life by debut author AJ Pearce. At the heart and soul Dear Mrs Bird is Emmeline Lake, a young woman who gently reminds the reader of the daily acts of heroism, the stoicism, the friendships and the bravery of the British during the turbulent times of the Luftwaffe assault.
For Emmeline (Emmy) Lake, the central protagonist of Dear Mrs Bird, becoming a female war correspondent is all she wishes for. Emmeline’s dreams become a reality when she answers a job advertisement for a London newspaper. However, Emmeline’s hopes are soon quashed when she is given the job of typing letters for resident agony aunt Henrietta Bird, for a women’s lifestyle magazine called ‘Woman’s Friend’. Emmy soon becomes frustrated with her new role. Despite strict instructions from the formidable Mrs Bird to eke out any letters of an unsavoury nature, Emmy crosses the line and begins to answer these letters and in the process she finds she is secretly impersonating Mrs Bird. This misunderstood act of kindness backfires and Emmy must deal with the fallout, along with tests to her friendship and her will to live in a time of great upheaval.
World War II based books never fail to draw me in and initially this is what first attracted me to request Dear Mrs Bird to read and review. AJ Pearce’s first novel is a gentle ode to World War II London, the citizens of the Britain’s capital and most of all, it is a rousing rendition to the life and times of this period in history. Pearce has clearly researched the era in which she is representing thoroughly and I was impressed with the finer details, as well as the recreation of this dangerous time. Although my initial impression of this novel was one of lightness, there are moments of darkness and despair that comes hand in hand with the book’s main subject matter, war.
What struck me most about this book and the enjoyment I gleaned from Dear Mrs Bird, was the agony aunt angle utilised to drive the narrative. When I stumbled on the Author’s Note at the close of this novel, I was drawn to the inspiration for Dear Mrs Bird. The author came across a women’s magazine from 1939 and amongst recipes of the time and fashions, was a problem page. This problem page and the many letters the author read following her discovery, helped Dear Mrs Bird take shape. The result is a novel that revolves around a fascinating aspect of the war. These are the forgotten fragments of the war, the happenings on the home front, with particular reference to women, that has largely been hidden. Books such as Dear Mrs Bird serve to put these aspects of war in the spotlight.
Dear Mrs Bird also allowed me to consider the role of women in war time more carefully. Through the main character of Emmeline Lake, we learn a little more about life for women who stepped up in the war. For the central protagonist Emmy, life in war time is about taking charge and seizing the day. She holds down her position on the women’s magazine ‘Woman’s Friend’ by day, while at night, Emmy answers important calls for the fire service. It is these selfless and ordinary acts that many women and citizens of London took up in the face of war. Pearce helps us to understand the overwhelming feeling that many women and those left behind felt they had to do something for the war effort on the home front.
The lead of Dear Mrs Bird, Emmy Lake, is a delightful young woman. Any reader that picks up this novel will find it hard not to laugh, cry and love with Emmy. Alongside Emmy sits a cast of authentic characters, from Emmy’s loveable best friend Bunny, to her boss, love interest and of course the enigmatic Mrs Bird. Pearce fills her first novel with a lively bunch of characters. The final bind they all find themselves thrust into highlights the kindness, surprising moments, friendship and heroism that defined this era.
Drawing you into the portal of war time London, Dear Mrs Bird is a tale told with warmth and a genuine understanding of a turbulent time in our history books. The charming character base and the energy of the agony aunt storyline carefully balances moments of hope in the face of war.
Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce was published on April 10th 2018 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Dear Mrs Bird, AJ Pearce visit here.
*I wish to thank Pan Macmillan for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.