Sunday, August 17, 2014

Reading Through History: Betsy Was a Junior by Maud Hart Lovelace (1947)

It is Betsy’s Junior year and she has decided to get serious - about her schoolwork, about Joe Willard, and about being there for her family now that Julia has gone to study at the U. When she learns of her older sister’s interest in joining a sorority, however, Betsy is distracted from all her plans by a desire to start a high school sorority of her own for the girls in the Crowd, and to encourage the boys to start a fraternity. Thus the Okto Deltas are born. While Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, who has recently returned to Deep Valley from Milwaukee, are initially thrilled by their exclusive organization, as time passes by, they realize their cliqueishness is driving away many other potential friends and ruining their reputations within their class.

The wonderful thing about this entire series is that Betsy is always good-hearted, but never perfect. She makes the kind of mistakes in both academic and social situations that plague the lives of real girls, regardless of when and where they live. There is a chapter in this book called “Agleyer and Agleyer” referring to the fact that “The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men. Gang aft agley.” This phrase more than any other really captures what this book is about. It’s a story that teaches girls how to recover from their mistakes, and to make amends with the people they have hurt. No one forces Betsy to make good choices; rather she learns her lessons and makes things right simply because she knows it is the right thing to do.

Also refreshing is the fact that Betsy is portrayed as a smart girl, but not a great student. She leaves projects - such as her herbarium - to the last minute, fails to win a spot in the essay contest, and generally seems to prefer socializing above all academic endeavors. I think many girls can relate to her desire to spend time with her peers, as well as to the end-of-year panic that sets in when a major assignment is not completed. Readers with older sisters might also understand her sense of inferiority in the face of her sister’s many natural talents, and they will relate to her daunting task of trying to fill her sister’s footsteps.

Finally, I love the way Lovelace slowly develops Betsy’s romance with Joe, and that she pairs Joe with someone else for the duration of this book. This approach not only keeps the reader interested as the books progress, but it also emphasizes Betsy’s own reserved approach to love, and the fact that romance, in her day, means serious commitment. I have grown weary of YA novels with mature sexual content, and this book is the refreshing polar opposite of books of that nature.

1 comment:

  1. Actually own this whole series. I read them in the pit orchestra every year in high school when I probably should have been doing homework. Next to Anne of Green Gables, probably my favorite!