REVIEW: Yours Cheerfully by A. J. Pearce
From the author of the “jaunty, heartbreaking winner” (People) and international bestseller Dear Mrs. Bird, a new charming and uplifting novel set in London during World War II about a plucky aspiring journalist.
London, November 1941. Following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles (now stationed back in the UK) is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, is bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.
When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty and standing by her friends.
Every bit as funny, heartwarming, and touching as Dear Mrs. Bird, Yours Cheerfully is a celebration of friendship—a testament to the strength of women and the importance of lifting each other up, even in the most challenging times.
Dear Ms. Pearce,
The wait for the follow-up to “Dear Mrs. Bird is finally over. Fans of plucky aspiring journalist Emmy Lake sit up and take notice. She’s back, she’s answering (some) letters, and more importantly she’s writing articles trying to encourage more women to join Britain’s workforce as the war enters its third year.
Emmy and her best friend from childhood, Bunty Tavistock, are still in London. Bunty works as a typist at the War Ministry while Emmy is still somewhat on probation after her efforts to answer “Agony Aunt” letters written to Woman’s Friend got a Bit Out of Hand. A few months of keeping out of trouble have helped and now her editor (and half-brother of Emmy’s beau Charles), Mr. Collins, calls a staff meeting to discuss their weekly magazine. After settling on some new approaches to increase reader interest, he drops the news that he wants Emmy to accompany him to a meeting at the Ministry of Information.
Emmy is thrilled to be in the same room with distinguished journalists, including an elegant woman known to Mr. Collins who effortlessly makes Emmy feel welcomed, unlike two smug and condescending women who belittle Collins and Woman’s Friend. Emmy’s never been one to hold her tongue and tells off the two with the information that her magazine already has a campaign worked out for what the Ministry wants. Only they really don’t. Oh dear, now what?
A chance meeting with a young war widow, off to begin work in a munitions factory, and her two young children spark an idea for Emmy. Woman’s Friend will run a series of articles (after passing the censors) on these women to show how it really is and also answer the questions in the barrage of letters the magazine has been getting from women around the country who are hesitant to sign up and need some encouragement.
But as Emmy journeys to the factory and talks with Anne and her co-workers, it becomes plain that in spite of how patriotic and willing the women are to work – or how desperate the widows are for a job to support themselves and their children – men in charge are still unwilling to acknowledge that women have societal and maternal obligations outside of work that men just don’t. Emmy has always longed to be a hard hitting journalist and this looks like another cause she’s not going to be able to keep herself away from even if it might interfere with her developing romance with Charles.
“Yours Cheerfully” manages to deliver much of what made the first book so wonderful but also provides Emmy with the chance to grow as a character. After the heartbreaking event that happened to Bunty, she and Emmy aren’t happy-go-lucky young women anymore. Learning from Anne how difficult it is for widows – especially widows with children – to provide for themselves if they lack family support adds to the drama that makes this book a bit darker than “Dear Mrs. Bird.”
Continuing in her role of answering the letters that flood the magazine, Emmy feels needed. The lack of information the questions reveal spurs her to suggest printing pamphlets to cover FAQ, but it’s the mission from the Ministry of Information that expands Emmy’s professional chops. Though she’s still learning the finer details of her job, Emmy displays a reporter’s grasp of when to press a subject and when to ease off. She instinctively spots possible news stories and feels a drive to deliver the story and keep her promises. She also gets confronted with the issue of what kind of story to write. Can she present only the positive and gloss over the negative in order to get desperately needed women into the war effort. Is that being honest with the readers of Woman’s Friend?
Emmy also worries about Bunty’s physical and mental recovery from the bombing. Her own relationship with Charles is accelerating and Emmy can’t help but be concerned at how this will affect Bunty who should have already been a bride. The friendship between the two, which was such a delight in “Dear Mrs. Bird,” is front and center again. I also enjoyed the scenes with Emmy’s loving parents – who know their daughter well – and the quick snatches of time when younger brother Jack shows up with a special present for Emmy.
Mrs. Bird might have made grown men quail in terror but with her gone, the colleagues at Woman’s Friend are coworkers we’d all long to work with. Rationing makes everyone an expert in creativity while reading about Bunty crossing a cratered street with her cane reinforces her injury and also the widespread damage to London without paragraphs needed to Drive Home the Points. Mrs. Lake’s acerbic reaction to the problems Emmy relates from the munitions factory as well as a stranger’s quiet approbation at how Emmy carries herself late in the book, remind us that the previous generation (unfortunately) went through many of the same issues facing Emmy and her friends.
The outcome of the hard work that Emmy, Bunty, and the munitions workers make don’t shake up the war effort overnight. Emmy and Charles are faced with the reality that he is an Army Officer and the country is at war. Bunty is still slowly improving while Emmy is spreading her journalistic wings. And Charles shows, in so many ways, that he not only understands Emmy, he thoroughly approves of what she’s trying to do. I wish there had been more letters answered but I will end this with the repeated wish that we’ll see more, much more, of Emmy and the others. B+
Really looking forward to this one and this review moved it up on my TBR pile! Loved the first book. I thought the author did a great job creating a sense of time and place in the first book, while still creating a heroine that readers today can identify with and root for.
@Bookfan: That’s an excellent observation about Emmy. She’s relatable and does make a few mistakes as a real person would but she’s got heart and integrity. I’d love to know what you think of it.
The “stiff upper lip” attitude of Emmy and the other characters reads a lot different in a pandemic world than it did when Dear Mrs. Bird was published three years ago, doesn’t it? Makes me vaguely ashamed of my whining that I can’t go out to eat, when they lived through their restaurants and homes being bombed to pieces. Of course they had a common enemy to rally around, while we can’t seem to decide if the bad guy now is the coronavirus or each other.
Anyway, a very worthy follow up! Wonder if there will be another.
@SusanS: I thought Pearce did a marvelous job of giving us “the same thing but different.” ☺ And yes, I agree – I hope there will be another book!