Why don’t we lighten things up this week, and read about teenagers in 1907? Specifically, let’s read about Betsy Ray, the heroine of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy In Spite of Herself.
Actually, my copy was a two-fer. It included Heaven to Betsy, which starts the summer before she enters high school. She returns home from a lonely week at a family friends’ farm to an event that pushes her straight out of childhood.
Betsy may cast a wistful glance backward. But she has plenty to look forward to. Her crowd of friends frequently meet around the piano in her family’s parlor, or outside for some skating on the frozen pond. Bonfires, fudge, her father’s famous Sunday night onion sandwiches—this is what kids did before social media, before color television.
Anybody want to time travel back to those days? Anybody up for a world where nearly every kid had two kind parents, the only crimes were Halloween pranks or an openly-smoked cigarette, and going to the dance meant boys filling out your dance card?
Heck, I’m raising my hand! I’m genuinely sorry I missed that whole dance card business, though there was always the worry that my card might not fill up. But I won’t fret about that. Betsy’s older sister Julia, a boy magnet if there ever was one, offers up a hint about how to handle that empty slot.
Betsy’s one of the smart kids in the school, though the constant round of parties could derail her most challenging projects.
Then again, Betsy nearly derails herself with a makeover project designed to add mystery and excitement to her all-too-ordinary life. This is a major attempt at change, going far beyond the cream she’s been rubbing on to her hated freckles.
Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself are two books from an entire series by Lovelace, all of it drawn from her own youth in Mankato, Minnesota. The only downside for me was a visit to
Betsy’s friend in Milwaukee, which felt like a thrown-in display stuff-I-know.
Otherwise, I coasted along with a smile on my face, just like Betsy riding the Minnesota backroads with her beau “at a thrilling twenty miles an hour.”