Release Date: 1945 and 1946
Publisher: HarperCollins | Harper Perennial
Pages: 704 pages
Series: Betsy-Tacy #5-6
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads
Summary (from Goodreads)
Heaven to Betsy: Betsy Ray is loving every minute of freshman year at Deep Valley High - with new and old friends all around her... not to mention boys! But most intriguing of all is the one she and her best friend, Tacy, dub "the Tall Dark Stranger."
Betsy in Spite of Herself: Betsy is at the center of every activity as a Deep Valley High sophomore and suddenly, thanks to her old friend Tib, she's offered a golden opportunity for glorious transformation. But will she impress the special boy by becoming dramatic, mysterious Betsye or would she be better off just being Betsy in spite of herself?
Thoughts on Heaven to Betsy
Oh Betsy Ray! She's growing up, but she's still got the same fun-loving and mischievous heart. Heaven to Betsy opens the summer before Betsy's freshman year of high school. Tib has moved away, but not much else has changed in Deep Valley. Or has it?
Betsy's spending two weeks visiting the Taggart's farm, and she's overwhelmed with homesickness. The family has a surprise awaiting her return, but she meets one important person on her journey home: Joe Willard. Working at the Butternut Center, this handsome stranger will factor into Betsy's life in ways she can't even imagine.
Her freshman year is filled with things even modern teenagers (or adults) can relate to: moving, becoming friends with boys, wondering if a boy likes you, finding your "crowd" at school, the academic pressures of school and feeling like you don't alway belong. Despite the book's age and the time in which it is set, these books feel so fresh to me. For the most part, Betsy's concerns are still things that people care about today. Sure, the world has certainly changed since then, but people's desires and dreams aren't really that different.
One of the things I most love about Betsy and about her family is highlighted in the quote I chose below. It's noted that Betsy is shocked to find some of her friends are so focused on marriage. In Betsy's dreams, that's not her only wish for the future. She wants to be a writer, and she wants to see the world. There is not one person in ANY of these books that ever implies that Betsy can't be or do exactly what she wants. It made me adore these novels all the more!
It's particularly fascinating because these novels are almost autobiographical. Maud based almost all of the characters on people she knew in real life, and the action is taken directly from things that happened to her growing up. Deep Valley may be fictional, but it's firmly rooted in the real Mankato, Minnesota. In these editions, you can even read end notes that tell you what really happened in Maud's life. The best part is that you can see pictures of the school, library, and homes upon which all the places in the novels are based (and which the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter closely resemble), as well as pictures of the people who inspired different characters.
One plot line centers around Betsy and her sister's desire to change denominations. The way they approach their family about it and the way their parents respond just highlighted for me why the Ray family is absolutely the fictional family I'd want to join. Mr. and Mrs. Ray love each other, and their daughters, so very much.
Finally, we see Betsy neglecting her writing in this novel and witness the consequence of that. She's very much consumed by social activities and having fun, and she has yet to learn that she has to nourish her talent in order for it to grow. This rang so true for me, and it was absolutely one of my favorite things to read. It was a little hard to see Betsy fail to live up to her potential - and you can just feel her shame when she realizes that she neglected something that's so important to her - but it will make her victories all the sweeter to know that she's earned them.
Heaven to Betsy was an absolute delight, and it was the perfect transition into young adulthood for our spunky Miss Betsy Warrington Ray.
Thoughts on Betsy in Spite of Herself
Once again, Betsy proves to be her own worst enemy when it comes to being true to herself. There are so many reasons I loved this book, but the main one is the fact that Betsy's main struggle (figuring out who she is) is so timeless and realistic.
In Betsy In Spite of Herself, it's a relationship with a boy that helps Betsy realize that she must, above all, be true to herself. She's so dissatisfied with herself that she's always looking for ways to improve. From her straight hair that's made wavy each night with curlers to the "fashionable" slouch of her shoulders, Betsy wants to fit in... but she also wants to be noticed.
And isn't that so relatable? I can remember that time in my life where I wanted to make friends, to be liked, to find my "Crowd" (as Betsy calls her group of friends). But I also wanted to be noticed, to catch someone's eye and stand out as someone that was special. For Betsy, a trip to Minneapolis provides the perfect catalyst for a little reinvention. And when the handsome Phil Brandish takes notice? Well, can you blame a girl for loving the attention?
The best part about Betsy is that she won't compromise on the things that really matter. When a certain fella tries to take her hand, she's quick to inform him - "You might as well know," she said with desperate honesty. "I don't hold hands. I just don't hold hands."
As anyone knows, a relationship where you aren't being yourself isn't going to last. I wanted to underline and draw hearts around Betsy's realization - "It wasn't the real me that [he] liked. No particular compliment in having him crazy about somebody who wasn't even me." Amen, Miss Ray! Hold out for the boy that will love you for who you are, not for who you pretend to be.
We get to see a little more of Joe Willard in this book, and I was certainly intrigued by this loner. An orphan, working to support himself, a lover of books... with lips that Betsy can't help noticing. You may not be swooning over him yet, but Maud's certainly catching your eye with this one.
There are so many things I loved about this book and haven't even described. I've fallen more and more in love with the Ray family as the series has progressed, and I have a feeling you will, too. Betsy may not always have it together, but she's doing her best and charming the rest. I'm telling you, this book just solidified this series spot on my FAVORITES FOREVER shelf.
Heaven to Betsy: "She had been almost appalled, when she started going around with Carney and Bonnie, to discover how fixed and definite their ideas of marriage were. [...] When Betsy and Tacy and Tib talked about their future they planned to be writers, dancers, circus acrobats."
Betsy in Spite of Herself: "Did he know she was so dissatisfied with herself that she was always pretending to be different? Probably he did, and despised her for it. More than anyone she knew, Joe Willard was always, fearlessly, himself."