Sunday, July 20, 2014

Reading Through History: Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace (1946)

In Betsy in Spite of Herself, sophomore Betsy Ray undergoes a bit of an identity crisis. Desiring to reinvent herself, she goes to Milwaukee to visit Tib for Christmas and returns home with a new set of rules for her personal behavior. She will spell her name "Betsye," stop smiling so frequently, and begin spending time with unlikely and unsuitable suitors. Unfortunately, Betsy's new attitude drives away most of "The Crowd," invites warnings from Julia about being "spoony" and interferes with her second attempt at the school essay contest.

Even more than Heaven to Betsy, this book brings to life the turn-of-the-20th-century teen experience. What is most interesting are the intricacies of socializing both with long-distance friends and with local boys. Betsy's holiday visit with Tib is so special because they have no immediate way of seeing one another or talking in real time on a regular basis. When they part, they're not sure how long it will be until they see each other again. Living in a world with Facebook and texting makes it especially hard to imagine how hard this would be.

It's also interesting that both Betsy and Julia establish very specific limits on their dating relationships. They don't hold hands at all, and even though Julia is about to graduate and of marrying age, she turns down a proposal in order to pursue her opera career. They are excellent role models for young girls when it comes to setting limits - and how refreshing to read a teen novel where romance is not the main focus! 

My favorite part of the boy-girl interaction in this book,  though, is the dance programs! I love that each girl has her own program listing all the dances of the evening, and that the boys just come along and sign themselves up to dance with whomever they like. I was also amused by the various meanings attached to the number of dances requested by any given boy, and what was considered acceptable, and what was considered rude. I can't help but think that this old-fashioned method might have removed a lot of awkwardness from my own high school dance experiences.

Betsy in Spite of Herself has me completely hooked on these characters. Betsy's future beau, Joe, has started to become more involved in the storyline, and more of his backstory has come to light, so I look forward to seeing where their relationship might lead in the next book, Betsy Was a Junior.

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