Dear Mrs. Bird (Pearce)

Dear Mrs. Bird 
A.J. Pearce, 2018
Scribner
288 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781501170065


Summary
An irresistible debut set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist— a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.

London, 1940.
Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable.

But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin.

But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding.

As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels for Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are gutsy and spirited, even in the face of a terrible blow. The irrepressible Emmy keeps writing letters in this hilarious and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.
Show More  (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—N/A
Where—Hampshire, England, UK
Education—B.A., University of Sussex
Currently—lives in the south of England


AJ Pearce grew up in Hampshire, England. She graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in American Studies—and spent her junior year in the U.S., at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Back in the U.K., following a career marketing, Pearce came upon an issue of Woman's Own, a 1939 women's magazine—it was a chance discovery that became the impetus for collecting vintage magazines and … the inspiration for her first novel, Dear Mrs. Bird. She lives in the south of England. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Charming and funny.
New York Post


Pearce’s clever debut follows a plucky Londoner during the Blitz who dreams about becoming a war correspondent. … The novel has a wonderfully droll tone.… Headlined by its winning lead character, who always keeps carrying on, Pearce’s novel is a delight.
Publishers Weekly


Fans of Jojo Moyes will enjoy Pearce’s debut, with its plucky female characters and fresh portrait of women’s lives in wartime Britain.
Library Journal


Set against a backdrop of war-torn London, this is a charming and heartfelt novel. Pearce brings to life a tale of true friendship, and how love will outlast even the most challenging times.
Booklist


Pearce's novel lays a light, charming surface over a graver underbelly.… Although the jauntiness and feel-good tone can grate on occasion, especially during the farcical wrap-up, this is a readable, well-intentioned, very English tribute to the women of the homefront.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. "There’s nothing that can’t be sorted with common sense and a strong will," (page 36) begins the description of Mrs. Bird’s column, Henrietta Helps. In theory, that’s not such a bad approach, but how does it fall short of addressing her readers’ concerns?

2. Why does the memory of her friend Kitty’s experience affect Emmy so strongly? How does it inform her actions?

3. Author AJ Pearce incorporates charmingly old-fashioned expressions to help convey a sense of the time period. What were some of your favorite terms? Did the language help your understanding of the era and the characters’ personalities?

4. Mr. Collins advises Emmy, "Find out what you’re good at…and then get even better. That’s the key," (page 54). Is this good advice for Emmy? Does she follow it?

5. Why does Emmy hesitate to tell Bunty about writing to Mrs. Bird’s readers? Is she only worried about Bunty’s disapproval, or is it more than that? How do secrets affect their friendship throughout the novel?

6. Do you think Emmy was right to confront William after he rescued the two children? Was his reaction warranted? Why do you think they took such different views of the event?

7. One of the major themes of the novel is friendship. Discuss Emmy and Bunty’s relationship, and all the ways they support and encourage each other over the course of the novel.

8. After the bombing at Café de Paris, Bunty is distraught and angry, but is some of her critique of Emmy fair? Does Emmy interfere too much?

9. Whether it’s readers writing in to Mrs. Bird, Charles writing to Emmy, or Emmy writing to Bunty, letters are of great importance throughout Dear Mrs. Bird. How does letter-writing shape the narrative?

10. The letter from Anxious on page 239 strikes a chord with Emmy. She thinks, "How often did we say well done to our readers? How often did anyone ever tell women they were doing a good job? That they didn’t need to be made of steel all the time? That it was all right to feel a bit down?" (page 243). How did the book make you think differently about women’s experiences in wartime?

11. Emmy’s mother says to her, "Once this silly business is all sorted, you and Bunty and all your friends will be able to get on and achieve whatever you want" (page 86). How much do you think expectations have changed for young women since World War II? What careers do you think Emmy and Bunty would aspire to if they were young now?

12. In the Author’s Note (page 277), AJ Pearce describes how reading advice columns in vintage magazines inspired her to write Dear Mrs. Bird. She says, "I found them thought-provoking, moving, and inspirational, and my admiration for the women of that time never stops growing.… It is a privilege to look into their world and remember what incredible women and girls they all were" (page 278). Discuss how magazines, then and now, provide a unique window into people’s lives.
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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