Published by Picador
Publication date – 24 June 2021
Source – review copy
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.
Dear Book Lovers,
When we last left Emmy Lane she had met Charles, her beau, her friend Bunty had suffered a heartbreak and injuries during a bombing and Mrs Bird had left Women’s Friend magazine. Emmy had just about clung on to her job, which surprises Emmy given she had spent her time during Dear Mrs Bird, though she masquerading as the agony aunt who gave advice rather than the orders Mrs Bird dished out. Now Emmy has been given the opportunity to write a column focussing on female workers. But as she sees what challenges these women face Emmy has to decide whether to tell the truth and honour her friends, or give in to the propaganda and ensure she keeps her job.
It was with much excitement and anticipation that I picked up Yours Cheerfully. My memories of Dear Mrs Bird are fond, I can still recall it as being on of the highlights of my reading in the past few years. And so there was also, of course, a little trepidation that Yours Cheerfully wouldn’t live up to my expectations.
That trepidation was unfounded. As soon as I read the first few lines I found myself welcomed back to the world of Emmy, Bunty, Charles and Mr Collins (or Guy when he was off duty, given he is Charles’ brother).
Mr Collins sees the potential in Emmy, and after seeing her excellent and thoughtful work on the advice column, he allows her to be responsible for a series of articles on women workers, perhaps knowing that she will go beyond what is expected of her, and prepared for the consequences.
The book focusses on a fascinating and often overlooked side of the war: the women left behind and the work they did for the war effort. It was a strange time for everyone but women, who would probably remained as housewives pre-war, found themselves working in munitions factories, as land girls, in the forces or other roles. Yours Cheerfully looks at those who went to work in factories. The resistance of the factory managers to take into account the women had additional responsibilities such as childcare, failing to provide access to the government nurseries and expecting them to work at all times of the day and night is all mentioned. The women Emmy meets have had to face loss, they all have husbands enlisted. Some have no idea were those husbands are, some have already been widowed and the rest have the threat of losing their spouses hanging over them.
Emmy does what she does best. She gets involved, she becomes personally attached to the women she meets and she wants to Do The Right Thing. She has learned lessons from the Mrs Bird debacle and so is torn between doing the right thing for the women and doing the right thing for the magazine and Mr Collins. She does have her moments, coming up with Very Bad Ideas but going along with them anyway.
There is all of the humour in Yours Cheerfully that fans of Dear Mrs Bird would hope for. Emmy gets herself into scrapes and pickles, there are lots of randomly capitalised incidents to show how good, or perhaps ill-chosen Emmy’s plans are (see above).
Yours Cheerfully delivers on it’s title. The reader, or at any rate this one, turned each page with a feeling of cheer, content to settle down and get lost in the world of Emmy’s war time London. The only cheerless part was the reading of the final sentence, knowing that my time with Emmy and her friends was up, at least for the moment. I have high hopes that we will see a return of Emmeline and company and I for one can’t wait.
There are few books I automatically recommend to people. Dear Mrs Bird is one of them. I’ve now added Yours Cheerfully to the list.
One very contented reader.
About the Author
AJ Pearce grew up in Hampshire and studied at the University of Sussex. A chance discovery of a 1939 woman’s magazine became the inspiration for her ever-growing collection and her first novel Dear Mrs Bird. She now lives in the south of England.
If you don’t know how much I love Dear Mrs Bird, you can read my review here.