Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reading Through History: Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace (1952)

Three years have passed since Betsy's high school graduation,and a case of appendicitis has put her a full year of college behind her Deep Valley friends. Realizing their daughter is not getting what she wants from her education, the Rays decide to give Betsy  the opportunity to travel abroad and gain some life experience to help with her writing. While in Europe, Betsy's small-town naivete is shaken as she meets a variety of new people and witnesses the first stirrings of World War I.

Of the entire series, I like this book the least, if only because it is so utterly different. Almost none of the story takes place in the familiar Ray family home, so the supporting characters who make the the series so warm and special only appear in occasional memories and letters from home. New characters abound as Betsy travels through Europe, but though they are charming - and even memorable - it's hard to love them as much as her long-time friends.

This book also concerns itself much more with specific historical events than earlier books, which gives it a bit of a different flavor. Though this is probably due to the fact that the story is semi-autobiographical, the references to events which the reader knows will lead to World War I contribute to the sense of Betsy's maturity as she becomes an adult. Only Betsy's abiding affection for Joe seems to remain from her younger days, but even her feelings for him are more mature as she travels than they are in any of the prior books.

Interestingly, Betsy and The Great World reminds me of Alice on Board, the second to last book of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Alice series. Both books take young adult characters beyond the high school years, on cruise ships, giving them new experiences beyond the home environment with which the readers are most familiar. Though Lovelace's treatment of Betsy's story is better written, it still feels as though both series should have just ended with high school graduation. Perhaps if Betsy and the Great World weren't a part of such an established series about which I already had specific expectations, I would have enjoyed it more, but as part of the series, it was a bit of a let-down.

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