Sunday, August 14, 2016

Reading Through History: Carney's House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace (1949)

Carney's House Party is one of three spin-offs to the Betsy-Tacy series, published between Betsy and Joe and Betsy and the Great World. Carney has just finished her sophomore year at Vassar College, and though she is hesitant about it, she invites her roommate, Isobel, to Deep Valley to join her two-week-long house party. Shortly after Isobel arrives, she and Carney meet a young rich man named Sam Hutchinson. Though Carney instantly dismisses him on the grounds that he looks like a "baby hippo," Sam keeps appearing and reappearing wherever Carney goes throughout the summer. Because Carney is still waiting to find out whether she and childhood sweetheart Larry Humphreys will end up together, she assumes Sam is pursuing Isobel, but is soon surprised to discover she might have more than one man vying for her affection.

I have been looking forward to reading this book for a long time because Vassar is my alma mater, and I knew there were at least a few scenes set on campus. I loved the descriptions of early 20th century college life, and of the Vassar daisy chain tradition, and I could imagine just exactly how landmarks like Main Building and Sunset Hill must have looked way back when. Beyond that, though, this book is just really well-written and easy to zip right through. I love that Lovelace is able to turn a "baby hippo" into a romantic hero, and that her treatment of romance in general is so old-fashioned and polite. Today's teen books are so sexualized and "edgy" that it's nice to be able to settle into a book like this, where everything feels positive and pleasant, even when disappointments occur.

I don't re-read a lot, but this book seems like one I might return to in order to read particular scenes or moments over again. It's just such a warm and comforting book, and a very tame and "safe" romance story. Since the characters are all in college and concerned with marriage, the story is probably most interesting to older teens, but because everything is so tasteful, there would be no problem with a middle schooler or even an upper elementary reader picking it up. Highly recommended, especially to fans of the Betsy-Tacy series, and to those who like Beverly Cleary's vintage romances.

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