Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Heaven to Betsy/Betsy in Spite of Herself

Summary: This brand-new edition of Maud Hart Lovelace’s beloved works brings together the first two books of Betsy and Tacy’s high school years, Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself, along with a new foreword by New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman.

Heaven to Betsy: Betsy Ray is loving every minute of freshman year at Deep Valley High—with new and old friends all around her . . . not to mention boys! But most intriguing of all is the one she and her best friend, Tacy, dub "the Tall Dark Stranger."

Betsy in Spite of Herself: Betsy is at the center of every activity as a Deep Valley High sophomore—and suddenly, thanks to her old friend Tib, she's offered a golden opportunity for glorious transformation. But will she impress the special boy by becoming dramatic, mysterious Betsy—or would she be better off just being Betsy in spite of herself? -- Harper Perennial Modern Classics

I absolutely adored the first four books in the Betsy-Tacy series (you can read my reviews here and here), but I have to admit that I was a little anxious to get the Betsy's teen years! I enjoyed seeing Betsy and Tacy's friendship grow throughout their childhood, but I couldn't wait to read about their high school experiences. I wasn't exactly surprised that I loved the next two books in this series which covered Betsy's freshman and sophomore years in high school. I am so glad that Harper Collins decided to re-release HEAVEN TO BETSY and BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF by Maud Hart Lovelace together in one big book.

HEAVEN TO BETSY is probably my favorite Betsy-Tacy book to date. The book starts with Betsy feeling homesick because she is staying with another family the summer before she starts high school. She comes home to find that her parents have purchased a new house and that she will be moving away (albeit only a short distance) from her best friend Tacy. Between moving into a modern new house in the town, beginning her freshman year at Deep Valley High and having her friend Tib move away, Betsy was certainly facing a lot of change in her life.

In this book, the reader really gets to see Betsy blossom! It's apparent early on that Betsy is very social and definitely interested in the boys (you could almost say that she was a little boy-crazy especially when compared to her friend Tacy.) I was a little concerned that when Betsy moved to town and began hanging out with some new kids that she and Tacy weren't going to be as close. At times, I was very upset because I absolutely adored Tacy and her practical nature; however, I shouldn't have questioned Betsy. She absolutely appreciated Tacy and their friendship; and she was still the kind and sensitive young girl that I have grown to love. By the end of this story, Betsy learned a great deal about herself and what was important in her life. The book ended on such a hopeful note because Betsy realized the importance of her writing and she begins to really look forward to her future.

One thing that I found very interesting in this book was the decision of Betsy and her older sister Julia to convert from their Baptist religion to Episcopalian (another huge change in Betsy's life.) I imagine that this was probably a pretty controversial topic when this book was first released. I appreciated how Ms. Lovelace explored their faith and beliefs, and I especially liked how they eventually approached their parents with their decision to convert. Betsy's parents (and especially her father) listened to their daughters and even offered wonderful advice. In fact throughout all of the Betsy-Tacy books, I have been impressed over and over again with the portrayal of Betsy's family. They were an extremely close and affectionate family, and they all seemed to be so loving and supportive of each other.

As I read HEAVEN TO BETSY, I couldn't help but remember my own high school years. Even though Betsy and I had extremely different personalities, I could still see so much of myself in Betsy. I remember so clearly my concerns about school, friends, and especially boys. And, I could relate so well to her insecurities about her appearance. I love how the author explores these universal themes and shows how some things never change no matter how many years pass.

As you can see, I really loved HEAVEN TO BETSY; however, I also thoroughly enjoyed BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF. In fact, even though I didn't necessarily enjoy the stories in this book quite as much, I actually liked the overall message in this story even more. The ultimate theme of this book is summed up perfectly in the quotation at the beginning -- "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." -- Wm. Shakespeare

I think I could understand Betsy even more in this book than the prior ones. I think most teenage girls have gone through many of the same things that Betsy experiences in this book. When Betsy goes away for two weeks over Christmas to visit Tib in Milwaukee, she wants to come back a different person. She creates a list of things that she needs to change about herself so her friends (and the boys) will perceive her differently. She even adds and "e" to the end of her name and tries to smile less. My heart went out to Betsy because I remember having those same insecurities when I was a teen; however, I knew that Betsy would have to figure things out on her own - -just like I did.

In this book, the reader also sees Betsy fall for the wrong guy. I could see that he was a little self-absorbed and definitely not good enough for Betsy; and I was very worried that Betsy would end up getting hurt. What I loved so much about Betsy is that she was so sensible when it came to the end of her relationships with boys. It might not have always happened immediately, but eventually Betsy came to realize that she was better off without the guy. And by the end of BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF, she knew without a doubt that she had to be herself; and if the guy didn't accept her just the way she was, then he wasn't worth the time. What a fantastic message for young girls! I was so proud of Betsy because I don't think I realized that lesson until I was much older.

I have now finished six of the ten Betsy-Tacy books; and I can't wait to read the next four! I feel as if I have watched Betsy grow up and learn so much about herself, and I almost feel as if she's an old friend. I am so glad that I finally discovered these books -- even though I'm about 30 years late. I feel as if I missed out on them as a child, but I am so happy that I can now read and talk about them with my daughter. In fact, the other day Booking Daughter and I were in the car discussing Betsy's love life. We sounded as if we were talking about a real person whom we cared about very much. In so many ways, that's exactly what Betsy is -- a friend that we've grown to love!

It's pretty obvious that I highly recommend these books to girls of all ages because I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't love them. I intend to give away a lot of these books in upcoming years. I absolutely love that these books cover Betsy's entire childhood, from the time she is six years old until she eventually falls in love and gets married; and I think they are the perfect gift for young girls. I can't wait to buy the entire series for the young girls in our family so they can fall in love with Betsy just like Booking Daughter and I have!

There is so much wonderful material on Maud Hart Lovelace in the back of each and every Betsy-Tacy book; however, there is also a website where you can learn even more about the books and Ms. Lovelace's life. In addition to this background information, you can also become a member of the Betsy-Tacy society. There is also a Betsy-Tacy gift shop where you can purchase almost anything related to Betsy and her friends including the most adorable note cards, paper dolls, clothes and jewelry.

The Betsy-Tacy books all lend themselves to discussion for book clubs and especially mother-daughter book groups. There is a great reading guide available which covers the entire series; however, each books could be individually discussed as well. I like the idea of reading and discussing a few books at a time and talking about the changes the reader sees in Betsy and her friends as they grow up. I also think it would be so fun to hear young girls discuss how they relate to Betsy and/or Tacy!

Even though HEAVEN TO BETSY was the first Betsy-Tacy book that dealt with the teenage years, I didn't have any problem with Booking Daughter reading it because it was so nice and sweet. In fact, I actually thought she'd really enjoy reading about the older girls. Here are some of her thoughts about HEAVEN TO BETSY:

I liked the book HEAVEN TO BETSY. In the beginning, I thought Betsy was too old and not as fun, but by the end of the book, I realized it was the same old Betsy. Betsy went through a lot of changes throughout the year, but in some ways it made her stronger.

The author still added some funny things to the story. I liked how she included things that Betsy and Tacy did in the earlier books like some of their traditions. I also liked that there was a writing contest and that Betsy was eligible to compete.

I made a prediction about Betsy's new boyfriend, and I really liked that I was right even though it was a little sad. I really didn't think the boy was good enough for Betsy and he treated her kind of badly.
I definitely recommend the entire Betsy-Tacy series including this book. I can't wait to read the next book BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF.

I'm sure Booking Daughter and I aren't alone with our praise for the Betsy-Tacy books. Check out these other tour stops:

Monday, September 21st: 5 Little Monkeys
Tuesday, September 22nd: Six Boxes of Books
Wednesday, September 23rd: Here in the Bonny Glen
Tuesday, September 29th: The Brain Lair
Thursday, October 1st: She Is Too Fond of Books
Tuesday, October 6th: I’m Booking It
Wednesday, October 7th: Kate’s Book Blog
Thursday, October 8th: The Tome Traveller
Monday, October 12th: Red Lady’s Reading Room
Tuesday, October 13th: A High and Hidden Place
Wednesday, October 14th: The Well-Read Child
Thursday, October 15th: Diary of an Eccentric

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour.


bermudaonion said...

It sounds like these books have withstood the test of time. If Booking Daughter thought Betsy was too old and not as much fun, she'd think I'm a total drag! I love Booking Daughter's reviews - they're so refreshing!

BookClubGirl said...

I love this dual review of both books! And so glad to hear that Booking Daughter could enjoy the high school books!

Kristen said...

Hmm. I might just have to dig out the first Betsy-Tacy books and see if my own girl chick is at all interested.

Greta Huls said...

Great reviews! I, too, love these books and wrote about their influence in my own blog,

CLM said...

So enjoyed your review. You will be interested to hear that the New York Public Library for many years would not carry Heaven to Betsy because of Betsy and Julia's well-considered decision to change denominations.

I hope you and your daughter one day see the real Deep Valley!

Beth Dunn said...

They sound adorable. Great review! xx

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

My younger daughter (7) loved the first four, but she can't read the older books on her own ... we can take it as a read aloud (by me) over time.

Older daughter (13) doesn't yet "get it." I keep mentioning (maybe not so subtly!) the ways that Betsy and friends are timeless (books about teens don't have to include cell phones, text messages, and trips to the mall. She'll catch on eventually!

I love to read Booking Daughter's perspective; especially nice to know that older Betsy turned out not to be boring! :)

trish said...

Julie, kudos to you! You kept me RIVETED through that whole review! I'm thrilled with what you said about these books, because I know this is a series I'll be able to give to my daughter and, while I'll definitely want to talk about it, I won't have to make sure my daughter understands what Betsy did wrong, or how that boy is wrong for her, etc. It's so great to have a series that is just honestly good.

Thanks so much for putting so much thought into your review, Julie!

Literate Housewife said...

You are making me regret giving those away during BBAW, but I know that the person who won them will enjoy them - and so will her 5 daughters. I'll have to pick these up again someday, especially when my girls get older. I bet it won't be long before they'd start enjoying me reading the younger Betsy-Tacy.

Anna said...

I'm reading Betsy In Spite of Herself right now, and I'm enjoying it. I really wish I'd discovered these years ago, but better late than never!

And the tidbits in the back of the book...I love them! So informative!

Diary of an Eccentric

Michelle said...

I only read half of your review because I have yet to start Besty in Spite of Herself. But I loved your review of Heaven to Betsy. I just finished it (still need to write my review) and absolutely adored it. Like you, I read the first four books but was anxious to get to the high school ones. Can't wait to keep reading.

Sarah M. said...

Once again, great review. I love the input your daughter gives to the reviews. Like you, as I read through the series the first time, each book was soon my favorite. They are all so good in their own ways. Enjoy the rest of the series and thanks for joining the MHL Reading Challenge!