Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Where was Betsy-Tacy during my childhood? Part 3


Moving right along in my little Betsy-Tacy project—I just finished the next two in the series, Betsy Was a Junior and Betsy and Joe (books 7 and 8, if you’re keeping track!).

So…are Betsy-Tacy fans everywhere going to shun me if I say I didn’t absolutely love these?

Now let me explain! These books cover Betsy’s (and Tacy’s and Tib’s) junior and senior years of high school. When I look back at my own late years of high school, I remember having fun but I also absolutely shudder at my level of immaturity—in terms of how I related to my peers and how I presented myself. And I thought I was soooo mature, so far above every other 17-year-old. I mean, I read books for fun! And I listened to jazz and I liked old movies! So as I read these two, particularly Betsy Was a Junior, I just cringed as I thought about my own experiences.

Betsy said throughout Betsy Was a Junior that she was “growing up,” and I get the impression that is not something Betsy wants to do. Well, we’re exactly alike in that regard (I could make a very long list of ways I’m still a 12-year-old at heart)! Julia’s left home for University, and Betsy is determined to fill that void  by being as mature as Julia is—filling the Ray house with music, acting mature and mysterious around boys, presenting herself as sophisticated. But Betsy is still Betsy and despite her school year resolutions, she gets caught up in frivolous fun with the Crowd. The girls start a sorority, emulating Julia’s college experiences, but they lack an understanding of how exclusive their group seems to their peers and, in turn, earn a poor reputation. Between incidents at school and at home, Betsy realizes that all of her unsettled feelings stem from disappointment with herself! And this disappointment is what finally leads her on the path to growing up. Betsy always gains self-awareness when she actually has the time to reflect…so we hope this time it will stick!

And then next up is Betsy and Joe which, honestly, I found a little…dare I say…tedious? I just felt like nothing happened until the end! Julia was out exploring the Great World in Europe; Betsy’s crowd had mostly given up childish parties and games, so everything felt routine; and about three chapters were devoted to a single football game, which didn’t seem to have much of an overarching point! The real fun and tension lay, of course, in Betsy’s relationship with Joe, which is always either swell or on the rocks (yes, I said swell!). The point I think was made in this one was that hey, Betsy’s not trying to grow up; Betsy has grown up. She’s a 1910 high school graduate planning to attend the U in the fall. We’ve followed Betsy as she’s expanded her world to beyond the Big Hill and now (eventually) beyond Deep Valley and, more notably, her childhood.

A discussion with my neighborhood friendly Betsy-Tacy enthusiast informed me that many B-T fans find Betsy Was a Junior pretty hard to read. I’m wondering if junior year is just universally a tough year for everyone, because it was by far the worst in my adolescence. It definitely was the year of growing up, for both me and Betsy, as you have to start thinking for the first time of what’s next, of life beyond what you know. And that can be very scary. So while I say I didn’t enjoy these two titles as much as previous ones, maybe it’s just because they remind me of that horrible unsettling feeling that comes with maturing!

On a final note, there were a couple great lines that caught my eye:

“Miss Cobb struck a note and said, as she had in previous years to Julia and Betsy, ‘This is middle C.’ Betsy liked that. She always liked things to go on as they had before.”

“People were always saying to Margaret, ‘Well, Julia sings and Betsy writes. Now what is little Margaret going to do?’ Margaret would smile politely, for she was very polite, but privately she stormed to Betsy with flashing eyes, ‘I’m not going to do anything. I want to just live. Can’t people just live?”

…and the great final line of Betsy and Joe. But I’ll save that for next time so as not to spoil the ending for you!

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