Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Betsy In Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace

272 pages
Copyright 1946, reprint in paperback 1980
Harper Trophy
New York, NY

I'm on a roll... After reading the first four books in the Betsy-Tacy series I finally reached my favorite books in the series -- the high school years, which begin with Heavens To Betsy and eventually lead into Betsy's early adult years and the end of the series. Of course now that I've begun re-reading them I don't want to stop. And so only a day after finishing Heavens to Betsy I found myself reading, Betsy In Spite of Herself.

The Plot:
As Betsy in Spite of Herself opens it is the summer of 1908. Betsy is 15 and heading into her sophomore year at Deep Valley High School. Even though Betsy and her life-long friend Tacy still underclassmen they are "important members of 'the Crowd,' which is the center of all the exciting happenings in the school. But all the interest in examinations, dates, parties, and school games vanishes when Phil Brandish joins the Crowd, for Phil is new and handsome and has a b right red auto. Betsy decides she has to change her personality to fit her new sophisticated role, and a trip to Milwaukee gives her the opportunity. Whether or not she succeeds, things begin to happen after she returns home, and her great decision about herself is made at her first dance." (Summary courtesy of the publisher)

My Thoughts:
As I said above, I love these books. Not only are they a part of my childhood (or rather teenage years -- as I read them and enjoyed them when I was about the same age as Betsy and Tacy), but they remind me so much of... well, me as a teenager.

At 15 years I was a budding author. I'd actually written and sold one story and I dreamed of becoming an best selling author and maybe even traveling the Great World. I loved having fun with my friends, attending parties, and even cheering at the occasional school basketball game. And like Betsy, I thought for a time that if I changed who I was -- in looks, dress, and personality, then I might draw the attention and companionship of those who I thought were "cool". But also like Betsy, in time I came to realize how silly that was.

As some readers may know (particularly if you're a reader of this blog) the Betsy-Tacy books are based off of the author's (Maud Hart Lovelace) own childhood and teenage memories and experiences. Most, though not all, of Betsy's friends and family are based off real-life friends and family members of Maud's. I think this fact makes the series that much more interesting. It's not just another historical fiction series, it's based on facts and thus in a very small way a biographical historical fiction series.

Between my own personal connection with Betsy's character and the knowledge that a real person just like Betsy actually lived, experienced, and felt the same things that I have makes the series so endearing to me.

But emotions aside. Heavens to Betsy is educational too. There are two things I've noticed while re-reading the Betsy-Tacy series. First, lessons are learned by Betsy and her friends, but their aren't presented in a preachy or lecturing way. Mrs. Lovelace weaves the story in such a way that any foolish decisions reap realistic consequences and the characters and readers are left to draw their own conclusions from such happenings. Unlike say... The Elsie Dinsmore books.

Honestly, I was never a fan of the Elsie Dinsmore series. I just couldn't stand Elsie's -- or the author's for that matter -- "goody-goody" attitude and preachiness (or so I viewed it). So when I came across the following paragraph in Betsy In Spite of Herself I almost laughed out loud:

"For a moment Betsy wondered wildly whether she should refuse to go. Elsie Dinsmore, she remembered, had refused to play the piano on Sunday; she had fallen off the piano stool instead. But Betsy had never thought much of Elsie Dinsmore..." (Chapter 12, page 127)
Second, without realizing it a reader can have a nice history and social studies lesson just by reading a Betsy-Tacy novel. I had forgotten how much attention Mrs. Lovelace gives to not only the exciting and unusual details, but also to the seemingly mundane and simple details.

The reader learns much about life in the early 1900s just by reading about Betsy's home, school, religious, and social life doings. And then there is the social and political comments that Betsy, her family and friend's make and observe throughout the books just as naturally as any family does today. When Betsy takes a trip to Milwaukee to visit her childhood friend, Tib the reader learns a great deal about what life was like for German immigrants to the United States prior to both World Wars. I found this aspect particularly enlightening considering the current status of international immigrants in America. It was indeed a very interesting read.

My Summary:
These books aren't just fluff. They bring out the best of my memories and I guess that's why I treasure them so. On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate Betsy In Spite of Herself a 5. This is a great follow-up to Heavens to Betsy. But I warn readers... once you start you won't be able to set the series aside until you reach the end.

Stay tuned for further thoughts and interesting facts when I review Betsy Was a Junior and an exciting announcement concerning this blog.

For more details about the reprinting of the Betsy-Tacy series or to see my other Betsy-Tacy reviews click on the Betsy-Tacy label.


Carrie said...

I REALLY need to get to this series and read them. I can't believe I've gone my old life without them. I feel somewhat ASHAMED. ;D Well, it DOES seem like I should have paid them some sort of attention....

Beth said...

You have made me want to re-read these. I discovered the Betsy-Tacy books when I was a teenager so I only read (and re-read) the high school books. I really enjoyed these books.

hopeinbrazil said...

Very intriguing review. I think you've got a lot of us scrambling to find these books!