Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: Betsy and Joe by Maud Hart Lovelace (1948)

In Betsy and Joe, Betsy is now a high school senior, and at long last, she and Joe overcome the various obstacles that have kept them apart and begin to pursue a relationship. Of course, this only happens after they surmount several large bumps in the road, not the least of which is Betsy’s concern for her friend, Tony, who has been known to make bad decisions, and who seems to have feelings for Betsy that go beyond friendship. Other complications in Betsy’s life include missing Julia, who has gone to Germany to study opera, worrying about Tacy, who might become an old maid if she doesn’t begin to show an interest in finding a husband, and an overwhelming sense of sentmentality over doing many high school things for the final time.

Like most of the other titles of the series, this book makes me nostalgic for a time period I have never lived in. I love the old fashionedness of the girls’ concerns about marriage, and the very polite and courtly way the boys and girls interact with one another. I love what a huge deal it is for Julia to visit from Germany, and the way Betsy tries so hard to fill her shoes because of how heavily Julia’s absence weighs on her close-knit family. While no time in history is truly idyllic, Lovelace makes it seem like nothing could be more pleasant than living in Betsy’s time, a fact about these books which undoubtedly contributes to their popularity.

Another great thing about this book is the involvement of Betsy’s younger sister, Margaret, who is so markedly different from either of her sisters. She has always been too young to have much impact on the plot, but now that she is a bit older, it is interesting to read Betsy’s reflections on her relationship with Margaret as compared to her relationship with Julia. I actually found myself even worrying a bit over how empty the house will seem to Margaret if Betsy also goes away from home (which I imagine she does, given the title of the next book, Betsy and the Great World.)

Betsy and Joe would make such a great graduation present, as it really causes the reader to stop and think about the end of high school and what is to come next. Betsy and Joe are also great role models when it comes to dating. They show a great deal of respect for themselves and each other, and a kiss is a major, serious event in their relationship, rather than something taken for granted. I just can’t help but be drawn to the innocence of these books overall, and I wish there were more contemporary reading choices out there with similar values.

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