Book Review: Dear Mrs. Bird

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

Rating: 4 out of 5.

”Μrs Bird says if people get themselves into a silly pickle, they’ve only themselves to blame.”

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy 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 seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, 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 letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

Dear Mrs. Bird is a clever blend of lighthearted antics and a strong dose of the heartbreaking reality of wartime. Dear Mrs. Bird recognizes the women at home in London during the WWII Blitz, as well as showing Londoners going about their lives in spite of the constant air raids.

Emmeline Lake has big ambitions of becoming a war correspondent, so when she spots The Evening Chronicle advertising for a junior secretary, she immediately applies. What Emmy sees as a stepping stone to her dream role in the war effort, turns out to be completely different when she realizes the job is actually a typist for the Henrietta Helps advice column. Henrietta Bird is an uptight advice columnist who will not respond to any letter that mentions “marital relations, premarital relations, extramarital relations, physical relations, sexual relations in general (all issues, mentions, suggestions, or results of), illegal activities, political activities and opinions, and the war”. So basically, anything interesting. But when Emmy reads some letters begging for advice that would be deemed unpleasant by Mrs Bird, she takes matters into her own hands and writes back herself.

I loved Emmeline, and found her to be incredibly funny. The book is narrated from her perspective, and I liked her a lot. Emmy is stubborn, annoyingly so in some places, and slightly naïve in others, but overall she reads as intelligent, sensible, and fun. Emmy’s best friend Bunty is also quite funny, though a little shallow and a somewhat flat personality. And her coworker Kathleen is sweet, naïve, and innocent, and a nice contrast to the more stubborn and outspoken personality of Emmeline.

Dear Mrs. Bird focuses on the roles of women who were at home in London during the war. Through Emmy, you see the women who volunteer with the Fire Brigade, answering calls each night during the air raids. And through the letters to Henrietta Helps, you see the loss, pain, love, and fears of the women and get glimpses of their everyday lives.

Dear Mrs. Bird is funny and light at times, and also sad during others. The atmosphere of London during the blitz years comes alive, and you get a real sense of the horrifying destruction all around them. But not only do you see the destruction and devastation, you also see the friendship, joy, and happiness that characters like Emmy, Bunty, and the women at the fire station, experience in spite of it all.

Have you read Dear Mrs. Bird? Let me know your thoughts!

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