London, September, 1941.
Following the departure of the formidable Editor, 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 is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, is still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, but 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, touching and cheering as AJ Pearce’s debut, 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.
AJ Pearce’s debut, Dear Mrs Bird, was one of those books I’d seen around on Twitter and kept planning to get hold of, so when the lovely Camilla Elworthy at Picador sent me a copy of the sequel, Yours Cheerfully, it was the perfect excuse to go for the double. I read both books back to back, and it was an absolute pleasure. Dear Mrs Bird is such a charming, warm, moving book that I was a little bit worried that the sequel wouldn’t live up to it – absolutely no need for such a concern!
Yours Cheerfully is a delight, a proper treat of a book, and I was so happy to be able to immediately spend more time with Emmy and Bunty, as well as meeting new characters along the way. Pearce does an amazing job of internalising the ‘Blitz spirit,’ of weaving it into the prose and the very fabric of the characters themselves. And yet, despite the ‘keep calm and carry on’ mentality displayed by Emmy and her friends, the novel explores the more complex aspects of being a woman in wartime – the conflicting duties of family and country, the problems of unsympathetic employers and torn loyalties. Although it is very much rooted in its time period, there is a resonance beyond the setting that poignantly echoes down the generations.
Like Dear Mrs Bird, it is also a wonderfully funny book. I love novels that are able to balance emotion and humour seemingly effortlessly, letting the absurd sit alongside the meaningful, having characters laugh and joke just as often as they cry. It’s life, it’s real, it’s a funny old mess, and Pearce does it so well. Regular readers of my blog (hi, both!) will know that I often read pretty dark books, but I also sometimes find myself craving something lighter, more gentle in tone, and this hits the spot without tipping into oversentimentality. I finished this book with a strong desire to give my best friends a hug (which is not so easy to do these days) – there is such an uplifting message of the power of kindness, standing together, helping each other out. And isn’t that exactly what we need more of at the moment?
I’m really glad I read both of these books together, as it felt like a proper immersion in Emmy’s world. I don’t know if there is more to come from this particular series, but if there is, I’m all in, and I will certainly be reading whatever AJ Pearce comes out with next!
Yours Cheerfully by AJ Pearce is out now from Picador and is available to purchase here.