Canary Girls: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Rosie the Riveter meets A League of Their Own in New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini’s lively and illuminating novel about the “munitionettes” who built bombs in Britain’s arsenals during World War I, risking their lives for the war effort and discovering camaraderie and courage on the football pitch.
Early in the Great War, men left Britain’s factories in droves to enlist. Struggling to keep up production, arsenals hired women to build the weapons the military urgently needed. “Be the Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun,” the recruitment posters beckoned.
Thousands of women—cooks, maids, shopgirls, and housewives—answered their nation’s call. These “munitionettes” worked grueling shifts often seven days a week, handling TNT and other explosives with little protective gear.
Among them is nineteen-year-old former housemaid April Tipton. Impressed by her friend Marjorie’s descriptions of higher wages, plentiful meals, and comfortable lodgings, she takes a job at Thornshire Arsenal near London, filling shells in the Danger Building—difficult, dangerous, and absolutely essential work.
Joining them is Lucy Dempsey, wife of Daniel Dempsey, Olympic gold medalist and star forward of Tottenham Hotspur. With Daniel away serving in the Footballers’ Battalion, Lucy resolves to do her bit to hasten the end of the war. When her coworkers learn she is a footballer’s wife, they invite her to join the arsenal ladies’ football club, the Thornshire Canaries.
The Canaries soon acquire an unexpected fan in the boss’s wife, Helen Purcell, who is deeply troubled by reports that Danger Building workers suffer from serious, unexplained illnesses. One common symptom, the lurid yellow hue of their skin, earns them the nickname “canary girls.” Suspecting a connection between the canary girls’ maladies and the chemicals they handle, Helen joins the arsenal administration as their staunchest, though often unappreciated, advocate.
The football pitch is the one place where class distinctions and fears for their men fall away. As the war grinds on and tragedy takes its toll, the Canary Girls persist despite the dangers, proud to serve, determined to outlive the war and rejoice in victory and peace.
Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-four novels, including critically acclaimed historical fiction and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series. In 2020, she was awarded an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association for her novel Resistance Women. In 2023, the WLA awarded her the honor of Notable Wisconsin Author for her significant contributions to the state’s literary heritage. Chiaverini earned a BA from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. She, her husband, and their two sons call Madison, Wisconsin home.
"A sprawling, ambitious story. The good, the bad, and the ugly sides of war on the homefront are highlighted in this uplifting story."
— Kirkus Reviews on Canary Girls
“So much new information is packed into this story that it becomes the best kind of history lesson…Chiaverini makes it easy to identify with and care about these women… The dangers of war are neatly integrated into daily lives and geographic location, and Chiaverini also addresses gender and race inequities and the insidious dangers of the spread of influenza on overseas troop transport.” — Library Journal (starred review) on Switchboard Soldiers
“Enchanting…Chiaverini brings her singular characters to life, including real historical figures, as they become united in the quest to serve their country. Fans of historical fiction will be captivated.” — Publishers Weekly on Switchboard Soldiers
“An eye-opening and detailed novel about remarkable female soldiers. . . Chiaverini weaves the intersecting threads of these brave women’s lives together, highlighting their deep sense of pride and duty.” — Kirkus Reviews on Switchboard Soldiers
“Chiaverini never loses her focus on her four extraordinarily courageous, resourceful, yet relatable narrators. Chiaverini’s many fans and every historical fiction reader who enjoys strong female characters, will find much to love in this revealing WWII novel.” — Booklist on Resistance Women
“Chiaverini offers an intimate and historically sound exploration of the years leading up to and through WWII . . . exceptionally insightful, making for a sweeping and memorable WWII novel.” — Publishers Weekly on Resistance Women