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Dear Mrs Bird | AJ Pearce | Review

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.

Set in London during World War II, Dear Mrs Bird follows Emmy, a plucky young woman who dreams of reporting on the war from the front lines as a Lady War Correspondent. She knows that she will have to work her way up to such an important job, but all she needs to begin with is a foot through the door into the world of journalism. She is so overjoyed to discover an advertisement for a job at one of the top newspapers in the city that she doesn't even stop to find out exactly what the job will entail, until she turns up for her first day of work and discovers that, far from reporting on the fighting at the front lines, Emmy now works at a somewhat declining lady's magazine, for Mrs Bird, an extremely old fashioned agony aunt.

Determined to take advantage of the opportunity she's been given, even if it isn't quite the one she thought she was getting, Emmy sets to work sorting through all of the letters Mrs Bird receives every day, asking for her help. Mrs Bird has a very strict set of rules regarding the letters and Emmy's job is to sort out the suitable from the unsuitable, typing up the ones Mrs Bird will answer and throwing away any that she won't. Emmy very quickly begins to feel that Mrs Bird's rules aren't entirely fair, and that the women Mrs Bird refuses to answer are often the ones who need the most help, so she comes up with a solution. Emmy begins writing back to them, in secret, giving her own advice, but signing Mrs Bird's name.

Pearce's writing is charming and funny but she also doesn't flinch away from the reality of life during the Second World War. Many of the letters that Emmy answers talk of extremely difficult problems that people had to deal with while they were already dealing with the war, and Emmy herself volunteers as a telephone operator for the Auxiliary Fire Services at night. Emmy and her best friend Bunty live together in London during the height of the blitz, and although Emmy worries about her job, she also worries about the fate of her boyfriend who is away fighting, and about Bunty's boyfriend who volunteers for the Auxiliary Fire Services too, putting out fires and rescuing people from bombed out buildings nearly every night.

However, despite these difficult scenes, this novel, much like the people who really lived through this time, finds the light in it too. Emmy is a funny and extremely endearing protagonist, and she is surrounded by characters who are lively and fun too. At the heart of Emmy's story is her desire to do good, to help the war effort by helping the women Mrs Bird won't. Of course, Emmy realises that her efforts will get her into a lot of trouble if she is found out, but she simply can't sit by and let these women be ignored by Mrs Bird. This slightly misguided way of thinking runs deep in Emmy's character, and, of course, causes many of the problems she encounters, but she is never mean spirited in her actions, which, along with the humour in the novel, makes her a delightful character to follow, and has the reader routing for her to fix the mistakes she inevitably makes.

Dear Mrs Bird is a heartwarming and heartbreaking look at the lives and roles of women during the Second World War, and Emmy and Bunty's strong friendship is as important to the story as anything else. When Emmy begins to reply to Mrs Bird's letters, she fears not only Mrs Bird's wrath if she is caught out, but Bunty's disapproval too. I have heard that Pearce intends to write many more novels about Emmy and Bunty and I for one will stick with these characters until the end. If you are looking for a funny, female friendship focused story, showing a different side of the Second World War, look no further.

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