Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce
Published: July 2018
Genre: historical fiction
London, 1940. Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable. But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.
Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.
Emmy wants nothing more than to be a war correspondent for a prominent London newspaper, and is over-the-moon to find an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle. But with her head in the clouds, she doesn’t realize that the job she has accepted is that of a typist for a grouchy, abrasive, particular woman who runs the advice column, “Henrietta Helps.” Unlike other advice columns, though, Mrs. Henrietta Bird wants nothing to do with women’s problems during the war and will only offer advice on housekeeping and other “appropriate” topics. Emmy can’t leave these poor women’s letters in the bin, and secretly writes back to them, hoping against hope that the little comfort she can provide will also assist her in her own troubles as bombs fall from the sky.
Several friends read and raved over this little book, and I knew I had to get my hands on this story about friendship and hope in the midst of one of the worst wars in history. I listened to it on audio, and I highly recommend you do too — Anna Popplewell (of Narnia fame) was the narrator and she does such an excellent job! She really brings the characters to life and I enjoyed every second.
Going in, all I knew about this novel was the premise, and it truly is just the first three or so chapters. But what happens after Emmy writes to the readers and defies her boss? This novel is a slice of life for one particular woman in war-torn London, and all the ups and downs each day brought. She has her full-time job at the magazine, her part-time evening job taking calls during raids to send out fire departments, her deep friendship with flatmate and childhood friend Bunty, and their trials and tribulations in love. I was so immersed in Emmy’s life, I felt like she was my friend. So while I, too, was invested in the readers and the consequences of Emmy’s actions, I found myself drawn to the everyday.
I highly recommend this novel to readers of WWII historical fiction, and readers who want to root for a lighthearted, resourceful, silver-lining protagonist who does her very best in keeping spirits up a during a turbulent era.