Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Emily of Deep Valley, Maud Hart Lovelace

Emily Webster, an orphan living with her grandfather, is not like the other girls her age in Deep Valley, Minnesota. The gulf between Emily and her classmates widens even more when they graduate from Deep Valley High School in 1912. Emily longs to go off to college with everyone else, but she can't leave her grandfather.

Emily resigns herself to facing a "lost winter," but soon decides to stop feeling sorry for herself. And with a new program of study, a growing interest in the Syrian community, and handsome new teacher at the high school to fill her days, Emily gains more than she ever dreamed...

I read and loved the Betsy-Tacy books as a child but somehow I never read any of Maud Hart Lovelace's other books. I cannot believe I was missing out on this book! Because it is really good. Like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and Little House in the Big Woods good. I read it last night and lost track of the number of times I started crying while reading. And I mean the good kind of crying. This is also one of those times I wish I was better with words so I could convey how much I love this book.
So let me just say I agree with everything Melissa Wiley has written about it:

"Maud Hart Lovelace’s most beautiful novel, Emily of Deep Valley, takes place in the same Minnesota village as the Betsy-Tacy books, and indeed Betsy makes a cameo appearance...

If you haven’t read this book, oh what a treat you are in for. Emily is the kind of character we don’t often see in these days of “you have to do what’s right for you.” What seems “right” for Emily, devoted scholar, is a college education like the rest of her high-school chums. But she lives with a very elderly grandfather, and somehow, somehow, she can’t bring herself to leave him alone. That, her conscience whispers, wouldn’t be right.

Sometimes, you see, “right for you” isn’t the same as just plain Right.

Doing the real right thing, Emily finds, is often the hardest thing. She also finds out that the Right Thing can be like a doorway, and when you step through it, you find beauty on the other side, beauty in places you never knew existed.

That’s why I have a stack of Emily of Deep Valley tucked away for my children. She mustn’t disappear, this strong and gentle young woman who understands that love means sacrifice and cheerfulness, and the kind of love that cheerfully sacrifices blesses the giver a hundredfold. I can’t think of a finer role model for my young brood—not even Betsy or Anne or Laura."

After reading that I was relieved to see the library had a copy of Emily for me to read. Here are some favorite parts and coincidentally parts that made me start to sniffle (and the last one made me giggle):

"You always did do what you could," Emily said affectionately. "Well! I'd better get to work." (p.28)

"Emmy," he said, "oughtn't I to give you a graduation present?" (p.40)

"Now, I'm not going to let this get me down. I'm not made that way. Thank God, I have a backbone, and a good stiff one, too..." (p.97)

"Muster your wits: stand in your own defense." (p.128)

"I'm going to fill my winter and I'm going to fill it with something worth while," she resolved. "I'm not going to neglect Grandpa either." (p.129)

"Emmy," he asked. "Is Jed courting you?"....

"Well," he answered defiantly, "it looks that way to me. It's flowers, flowers, flowers! And candy, candy, candy! And books! And shows! And a picture of Abraham Lincoln for me, although he's a rebel and he admits it. By Jingo, I know courting when I see it! I went courting once myself." (p.278-279)

There is so much to love in this book: Emily's picking herself up and dealing with the life she has been given, how real the descriptions of feeling left out & different are, Grandpa!, Jed!, and most particularly this encounter between Emily & Don that made me want to give her a high five for kicking an arrogant jerk to the curb:

"I suppose you think that I'm a cad."

"I just don't think about you. Good-by," Emily said, and closed the door firmly behind him." (p.277)

For a girl who spent so much time thinking about someone who didn't deserve her in the slightest that is the perfect response. I loved picturing a heavy door slamming in Don's face even though I know Emily would never be so rude. I also loved Emily realizing this:

"Don! That spoiled child! Jed was a man. Someone to respect, to look up to. Big and warm and protective and loving." (p.289)
I could keep going. I also love Betsy's appearance and her advice to Emily about getting to know yourself outside of your crowd of friends; finding out who you are on your own. Mostly I loved how I felt when I finished reading the book. And all throughout the day when I felt myself getting annoyed with my current life situation (by which I mean a classroom full of babies & brats) Emily was popping into my mind and reminding me to "muster my wits". Her attitude makes me think of Ovid:

"The burden which is well borne becomes light."
I can't wait to reread this book. I need my own copy!


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