Heaven to Betsy

September 3, 2009 @ 12:38 pm | Filed under: Books

heaventobetsyTomorrow is the last day to sign up for Betsy-Tacy Convert Week.

If you’d like to participate but don’t have a potential convert in mind, Bonny Glen commenters Lenetta and Anna would love to be adopted.



I’m re-re-rereading Heaven to Betsy right now. How could I resist, after all these Betsy posts? It’s the first of the high-school books, chronicling Betsy’s freshie experiences with a new Crowd of friends—irresistible! The setting is early 1900s Deep Valley, Minnesota, aka Small Town America. Betsy’s social life—a merry string of piano singalongs, football games, parties, surrey rides, school dances, and her father’s famous Sunday Night Lunches (where onion sandwiches are the stars of the show)—is enviable, but even so, Betsy grapples with doubts and difficulties:

Walking homeward, looking up at the sky, and around her at the wan landscape, she felt an inexplicable yearning. It was mixed up with Tony, but it was more than Tony. It was growing up; it was leaving Hill Street and having someone else light a lamp in the beloved yellow cottage. She felt like crying, and yet there was nothing to cry about.

She made up poems as she tramped homeward, the snow squeaking under her feet. Sometimes when she reached home she wrote them down and put htem with Tony’s notes deep in the handkerchief box. But she did this secretly.

“What has become of your writing, Betsy?” her mother asked. “Are you sure you don’t want Uncle Keith’s trunk [Betsy’s old desk] down in your bedroom?”

Betsy was sure; she didn’t want it, although she still climbed to the third floor and visited it sometimes.

Writing didn’t seem to fit in with the life she was living now. Carney didn’t write; Bonnie didn’t write. Betsy felt almost ashamed of her ambition. The boys teased her about being a Little Poetess. She felt that she would die if anyone discovered those poems in the handkerchief box, and the bits of stories she still wrote sometimes when she was supposed to be doing algebra.

This is a different Betsy from the little girl who entertained her friends with endless tales back in the old Hill Street days. To be sure, the 14-year-old Betsy is still entertaining her chums with her ready wit and lively spirits. But she hasn’t quite figured out what to do with this other side of herself, the serious, introspective side, the place the poems come from. She’ll get there, but it’ll take time. And as life changes, she’ll have to sort the sides of herself all over again: we see her still groping for balance in Betsy’s Wedding, the final book of the series. I love that; it rings quite true.



Related posts:

How I met Betsy Ray and her Crowd.
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill


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Comments

8 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Just a vicarious convert — bought the first Betsy-Tacy (at your recommendation!) for my dd who is now keenly requesting more. Guess I’d better play catch-up!

  2. I found a whole set at the used store a year or so ago. The introductions in my copies looked at Betsy from a modern feminist standpoint which sort of puzzled me.
    I don’t have much more to say than that. We enjoyed the younger books, but my daughter is too young for the high school stories.

  3. I have only heard of these books from you… no one in the area here carries them, so i cant even peruse. Thanks for the quote!

  4. I wish someone would convert me. I’ve read the first book but haven’t got any of the others yet.

  5. “The introductions in my copies looked at Betsy from a modern feminist standpoint which sort of puzzled me.”

    That was Anna Quindlan’s introduction. She gave the books a feminist gloss based on how seriously Betsy’s writing aspirations are treated—by Betsy herself, and her friends and family. But (as Quindlan points out) Betsy totally respects her friends whose dreams involve family and homemaking, and (now adding my observation) Betsy herself puts keeping house at a priority after she gets married. She is still passionate and serious about writing, and she determinedly makes time for that too, but she takes pride and joy in creating a cozy nest for her beloved. And he respects and prioritizes her work (all the kinds of it) as much as she does his. I find so much to relate to there! :)

  6. Oh but Jenn—one thing that merits a heads-up—there’s a bit with a Ouija board in Heaven to Betsy, treated lightly, as a game, but it’s there. Provided fodder for very good discussion with my girls.

  7. I’m just finishing my every few years summer reading of the older Betsy books… 1/2 way thru Betsy’s Wedding. Wonderful books… which I keep recommending to librarians(who don’t know & discard them!), fellow homeschoolers, older ladies whose grandmothers were Betsy’s/Maud’s era, etc….

    Yes- the Ouija stuff merits discussion as well as the Anna Quinlan speech. And Yes, I think it’s best to wait until your girls are older to read the last 6 Betsy books & Carney’s House Party & Winona’s Pony Car, if you can find it or Emily of Deep Valley. But, for young adults(and not so young adults :) with their heads on straight, the books are a delight and provide a cultural education of the Midwest and Europe almost 100 yrs ago.

  8. […] come Betsy’s high-school-and-beyond books. Freshman year: Heaven to Betsy, which I wrote about here. New house, new school, new friends; Sunday night lunches, dances, skating parties. Joe Willard at […]