Dear Mrs. Bird

by A.J. Pearce

Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson

Dear Mrs. Bird is a wonderfully original take on the WWII homefront novel. Set in London during the Blitz, The essential elements of the setting are present, including a plucky heroine who makes the best of bomb shelters and the daily risk of being blown up. What gives this novel its special character is its off-beat setting in the offices of a second-rate women's magazine and the conflict between its naïve, kind-hearted heroine Emmy Lake, and her nemesis at the magazine.

Emmy's yearning to become a war correspondent leads her to answer a vaguely worded ad for a "junior" at the publishing company of a noted newspaper, and to accept the job without asking specifically what it is or who she will be working for. On her first day at work, she is dismayed to discover her boss is the loud, cross Mrs. Bird, who writes an advice column for ladies. Mrs. Bird's outdated and eccentric insistence on answering only those letters which strictly avoid a long list of unmentionable subjects becomes more and more distressing to Emmy. The women who write to the magazine have problems that wartime complicates immeasurably, and most of them are not ladylike by Mrs. Bird's standards. But Emmy's own fiancé is away serving in the military, and she wants to help women her heart goes out to. So, secretly, she does something she knows is against the magazine's rules.

Dear Mrs. Bird is a short novel with a brisk, easy style. It hooks readers with the delicious comedy of its opening chapters, draws us further in with a set of keen moral dilemmas, and deepens into a story of the heart-breaking realities of wartime. Readers may close this novel wondering whether Emmy's choices were courageous and right, reckless and wrong, or something in between, and asking themselves how they would navigate the same situation. (2018, 281 pages including an Author's Note about the history behind the novel)

More about Dear Mrs. Bird at Powell's Books or The Book Depository

Other novels set during the Blitz:

Blackout by Connie Willis (2010), about time-traveling historians who become stranded in England during the Blitz. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (2002), about a London woman who goes to the countryside during the Blitz to take charge of a crew of young women who will plant vegetables in the ruined gardens of an old country estate. See review or more info

Bandaging the Blitz by Phyll MacDonald Ross and I.D. Roberts (2015), historical romance about an eighteen-year-old girl training to be a nurse in London during World War II. More info

Nonfiction about the London Blitz and advice columnists:

London Was Ours: Diaries and Memoirs of the London Blitz by Amy Helen Bell (2014). More info

Hitler's Revenge Weapons: The Final Blitz of London by Nigel Walpole (2018). More info

The Blitz: The British Under Attack by Juliet Gardiner (2011). More info


History: The Blitz at the BBC website

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