Title: Yours Cheerfully
Author: AJ Pearce
Publication date: August 10, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
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.
In this follow-up to Dear Mrs. Bird, the story of Emmy Lake continues — although Yours Cheerfully works perfectly well as a stand-alone. Emmy is a young woman who’s just learning the journalism ropes at Woman’s Friend magazine, while also juggling her wartime volunteer work as part of the fire watch, spending time with her best friend Bunty, and squeezing in precious visits with her boyfriend Charles whenever he can get leave. It’s 1941, and the war dominates every aspect of life in London.
As the story opens, the British Ministry of Information convenes a briefing for representatives of women’s magazines, urging them to do their patriotic duty by promoting recruitment of women workers to support the war effort. For Emmy, this represents a chance to advance in her journalism career, but as she visits a munitions factory as part of her research, she learns that there’s a darker side to women’s factory work: For those with small children, childcare can be difficult to impossible to find, and women who sneak their children into the factories so they can watch them face immediate firing.
Emmy learns as well that some of these women are war widows or have husbands missing in action, so that the factory work is not only patriotic, but is essential to their families’ financial survival.
Despite the magazine needing to keep up the positive portrayal of woman’s war work, Emmy can’t help feeling that she’s letting their readers down by not advocating for more attention to the needs of the workers — especially since there are supposed to be government-funded nurseries, but only if the factory owners make the effort to make the arrangements, and apparently, many of them don’t bother.
The story of the factory workers with whom Emmy becomes friends becomes a main thread of the plot of Yours Cheerfully. Interspersed with this is Emmy’s friendship with Bunty, recovering from injury and terrible loss after events in Dear Mrs. Bird, and the story of Emmy’s romance with Charles. There are sweet romantic moments, as well as a depiction of the challenges of everyday life during war and the fragility of every moment of happiness, knowing sorrow could be just around the corner.
I enjoyed Yours Cheerfully, although it starts very slowly. My interest was slow to engage, but eventually I was drawn in by the story of the factory workers, whom we come to know as individuals, each with their own backstory, and by the ups and downs faced by Emmy and Charles as they try to juggle courtship and engagement with the realization that Charles is likely to be sent overseas at any moment.
Yours Cheerfully is a quiet book — even the moments of greater action, such as a march to promote nurseries for the munitions workers, are fairly mild affairs. The characters are all lovely, but the book doesn’t build a great sense of drama or urgency. It’s a very nice read, but I can’t say I ever felt compelled by the plot or totally engrossed.
Overall, Yours Cheerfully provides a thoughtful look at women on the homefront during war, depicting the bravery embodied in carrying on during a time of heightened tragedy and crisis, and the power of friendship and joy to see the characters through the worst of times.
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