Dear Mrs Bird (2018) – AJ Pearce

Title: Dear Mrs Bird
Author: AJ Pearce
Date published: 2018
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Set in 1941 during World War One, young Emmeline ‘Emmy’ Lake has dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent. With a passion for writing and journalism she devours newspapers and hopes to work for London’s The Evening Chronicle. One day she finds a wanted ad in the paper for a junior typist at the very same press association that owns the Chronicle. Delighted at her insane luck she applies for the job and immediately realises that all is not what she thought it would be. Instead of being at the forefront of important news stories and making a difference in the so-called ‘war effort’ Emmy realises this job involves assisting the ‘tough as nails’ Mrs Henrietta Bird in the Henrietta Helps column at the almost dead as a door nail woman’s magazine, Woman’s Friend.

Appalled at what Emmy believes to be a waste of her talent and her ability to help with ‘real’ problems she still takes the job hoping that it will eventually lead to a better position, or a job at one of the other more prestigious and respected newspapers. Her job as it were entails reading through the letters readers have sent in and discarding the ones deemed UNACCEPTABLE by Mrs Bird herself. Mrs Bird’s (very lengthy) list of UNACCEPTABLE topics and keywords include any letters that include the words ‘affair’ and ‘bed’ to name a couple, and the topics of ‘marital relations’, ‘sexual relations’, ‘political activities’, ‘religious activities’ and ‘the war’ (excluding questions regarding rationing, volunteering, clubs and practicalities). This list of topics is also rather lengthy and involves several exceptions, however it is the most stifling set of rules Emmy has ever come across. As the readership is already low and dwindling by the day, Emmy struggles to find enough letters worthy of Mrs Bird’s time, and most of all, she struggles with the number of letters that are meant to be left unanswered.

And so begins Emmy’s decision to secretly reply to the desperate women that have written in, and in so doing this she feels she will at least be helping the war effort in a very small way. However not everyone is supportive, and Emmy’s best friend and roommate Marigold ‘Bunty’ Tavistock tries to dissuade Emmy from getting involved in the writing of these letters. As well as working at the magazine Emmy also volunteers at the local fire station answering the phones during bombing raids over London. Despite letter writing and volunteering Emmy continues to feel helpless in the harsh face of the war, and is determined to do as much as she can and to remain as cheerful as she possibly can under these rather dire circumstances.

The reality of Emmy and Bunty’s life is that they are both living during the horrifying reign of the tyrant Adolf Hitler and they are living in a city that is being bombed daily with the very real possibility of fatalities. Despite these daily horrors the girls remain as upbeat as they possibly can and attempt relationships and social events and generally try to make the best out of a situation that doesn’t seem to care about lonely widows or young women in love with a soldier at war.

During the time when the tradition of letter writing was so prevalent Emmy reminds the reader how important it is to help others and to communicate with those we love. Her youthful and (and often naïve) innocence is what keeps us rooting for Emmy as she makes countless mistakes but ALWAYS with the right intentions.

This debut novel is heart-warming and funny and so relevant. It is indeed a reminder that even during the harshest of times in history, humanity has always held on to one single element of hope: to love and to be loved.

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