Although Jennifer Ryan’s The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir begins with lovely letters and seemingly benign characters, her story quickly escalates to a baby kidnapping and a testament to the power of women. With the men of the town off to war, the women of the little town in England form their own women’s choir, their catalyst to independence and determination.
Letters and journal entries move the action, a nod to Britain’s Mass Observation project referenced in Ryan’s Acknowledgments; the social research organization encouraged keeping diaries and journals to document ordinary citizen’s coping with the war. Members of the choir reveal their thoughts as well as the action of the story through the journal of a precocious twelve year old, Kitty; letters from her older and beautiful sister, Venetia to her friend in London; the menacing letters of Edwina Paltry, the conniving town midwife; the journal of Mrs. Tilling, widow, nurse, town conscience and the short entries of Sylvie, a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia hiding a family secret.
The men are heroes and villains – a brutish husband bribing a midwife to switch babies, a handsome dilettante with a mysterious mission, a gruff widowed Colonel with a lot to offer, and assorted swains – some rich, some connected, some just handsome. Ryan highlights the strength of the women on the home front as each struggles with her own destiny, grows stronger through adversity, and, in the end, lives happily ever after – with the choir as the bonding agent throughout.
With the same charming flavor as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir includes romance, adventure, and mystery with a touch of the horrors of war.