Maud Hart Lovelace •
Heaven to Betsy •
Generations of literary-minded girls have found a soul mate in Betsy Ray, who blushes too easily, wobbles on ice skates, and nearly flunks algebra. The intensely autobiographical Betsy-Tacy stories draw heavily on Maud Hart Lovelace’s early diaries, which accounts at least in part for their verve and freshness. The situations feel familiar and universal, never contrived or cute.
At 14, Betsy has two burning desires: to be popular with boys, and to be a writer. (She also longs to be beautiful, but that counts as a sort of subdesire, leading to success with boys.) In her first year of high school, Betsy has her heart broken by a Tall Dark Stranger; experiences the pangs of leaving her childhood home; ponders her religious beliefs; and finds a receptive audience for her fledgling literary attempts.
Betsy is blessed not only with a rollicking Crowd of friends, but with what must be the most supportive family in print: parents and sisters who applaud her efforts and believe wholeheartedly in her abilities. When someone dares suggest that perhaps Betsy isn’t quite in Shakespeare’s league as a writer, even the cook springs to her defense. “Who is this Shakespeare?” Anna demands vigorously (Betsy In Spite of Herself). “Does he ever come here? Well, he’d better not.” On being told that the Bard is now dead, she counters, “Small loss, probably.”
For my money, Betsy is the most engaging, believable heroine in all of juvenile literature.