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.
As I said when I first read A J Pearce’s first novel – the delightful Dear Mrs Bird – some books really do come along at just the right time. And after the rough ride that was 2020, it feels like we could all do with some cheerfulness and support in our lives. So it really is the perfect time for the irrepressible Emmeline ‘Emmy’ Lake and her colleagues at Women’s Friend to make their return in Yours Cheerfully!
It’s all change at Women’s Friend following the departure of the formidable Henrietta Bird. The good-natured Mr Collins has assumed the role of editor and Emmy is now free to assist the understanding and practical Mrs Mahoney on the problem page. More importantly, however, Women’s Friend has been given An Important Task.
Called for a high-level meeting at the Ministry of Information, Emmy and the rest of the Women’s Friend team are tasked with helping to recruit female war workers. Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help but, when she and her best friend Bunty meet a young widowed mother on the train, she begins to realise the challenges faced by some of the women trying their best to do their duty to the country. Before long, Emmy is back on the campaign trail and getting involved in helping her new friends as only Emmy can – but what is she prepared to risk to stand up for her friends?
A J Pearce has done a fantastic job developing her returning characters – and bringing in some interesting new faces. Emmy grew so much during the course of Dear Mrs Bird and, in Yours Cheerfully, we see her develop further as both a young woman and a young journalist. I really empathise with Emmy because she does make mistakes and she sometimes gets herself into a right tangle – but her heart is always in the right place and, whilst she’s becoming increasingly aware that sometimes you can’t just push away your worries, she’s determined to Make a Go of It and do her best to support her friends, her family, and her beloved boyfriend Charles.
I also really loved the focus of Yours Cheerfully, with its depiction of women’s war work and the challenges faced by working mothers – challenges that still haven’t been adequately solved to this day. As with its predecessor, there’s a real sense of the challenges of wartime life beneath Emmy’s cheer and spirit, and the novel doesn’t shy away from depicting the tragedy and often grim realities of the war years.
This is also bought across in the other strand of the novel – Emmy’s relationship with her boyfriend, Captain Charles Mayhew. Although now stationed back in England, the demands of the war place constant constraints on Emmy and Charles’s relationship – and there’s the ever present possibility of redeployment to contend with. I loved how Pearce balanced Emmy’s pride in Charles with her worries about him being sent back into the front lines of the fighting.
As with Dear Mrs Bird, there is an accomplished lightness of touch in Yours Cheerfully. A J Pearce has, yet again, walked the line between the realities of life on the UK’s Home Front in World War II and the uplifting, hopeful story of Emmy and her friends with great skill. As I said in my Dear Mrs Bird review, the deft lightness of touch that allows such a story to work on so many levels is a real testament to the skill of the author.
The story does work perfectly well as a standalone so readers unfamiliar with Emmy could certainly dive straight in here – although I’d recommend picking up the first book anyway because you’d be missing a treat otherwise! Fans of Dear Mrs Bird are, however, sure to adore Yours Cheerfully – it really is the perfect sequel, and an ideal novel for picking up and diving into to take your mind away from the challenging times we find ourselves in.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to Camilla Elworthy at Pan Macmillan and to Picador for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.
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