Heaven to Betsy (Betsy-Tacy)

by Maud Hart Lovelace

Paperback, 1980



Local notes

PB Lov




HarperTrophy (1980), 268 pages


The adventures of Betsy and Tacy in their first year of high school.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

268 p.; 5.5 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member devafagan
Heaven to Betsy introduces us to Betsy just before she begins her freshman year of high school, and takes us through the ups and downs of that first year. This is one of my two favorites of the entire series (the other being Betsy and the Great World). If I start listing everything I love about
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this book you’re going to get something like “Miss Mix creates stylish new outfits and Mr Ray makes onion sandwiches and there are picnics and the Crowd and Halloween and Carney and Tony and JOE!” and then I will collapse in a pile of swoony fangirlishness. So instead I’m going to focus my discussion on two things that make this book stand out.

First is a general quality of the entire series, which I find particularly noticeable starting with the high school books. When I read these books, I feel a basic underlying optimism about life, that loved ones will support you, that there is always beauty and hope in the world. Some people might say that these are “nice” books. But I am not sure that word captures what I’m talking about. Perhaps this is because of early exposure to the musical Into the Woods, which leaves me silently singing the witch’s song anytime I hear the word “nice”: You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.

The Betsy books are “nice”, but that doesn’t mean they don’t contain the good and the bad as well. Betsy has a loving family, but it’s all (to me, at least) entirely real and believable. These aren’t cardboard Mom and Dad cut-outs with smiles painted on. They are real people complete with faults and virtues. Betsy gets her heart broken, she makes mistakes, she hurts other people. And yet I never feel a lasting bitterness. Pain and regret, yes, but there’s a peace to it. A feeling that Betsy (or perhaps Maud, since these are semi-autobiographical) can look back and come to terms with her life. It’s a different feeling than what I get reading the Little House Books, where I do perceive a bitterness, a self-censoring by the author that makes the books more distant. It’s also a different feeling than what I get reading the Anne books, which have an almost fairy-tale like quality to me — they describe a golden-hued beautiful world I love visiting, but it’s not quite as down-to-earth as Betsy’s world. There’s a place for all these types of books, of course. But if you are looking for a book that is old-timey and sweet and nice, but also very grounded and real, you might find it here.

The second thing about Heaven to Betsy in particular that I think makes it worth reading, especially for anyone who is a writer or dreams of being one, is the depiction of Betsy as a budding writer. On the brink of high-school, and having just moved in to a new house, Betsy begins the book feeling that there isn’t a place for writing in her new life. In earlier books, Betsy uses a beloved old trunk as her desk to write poems, but it somehow doesn’t belong in the new room, and Betsy herself suggests it be moved to the attic. And yet:

Sometimes she climbed into the attic and stuffed smudged, scribbled papers furtively into the trunk, standing forlorn in a dark corner. On such occasions she often cried a little, never much, for it always occurred to her how romantic it was to be crying about her trunk, and then she stopped, and couldn’t start again.

Betsy quickly gets whisked away by all sorts of other diversions: meeting new high school chums, making fudge, picnics, singalongs, parties, and falling hard for the new boy Tony. It is exhilarating and breathless and FUN but yet there’s something more. By winter time we find:

The snow which all day long had sparkled in the sunshine looked pale. 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.

That passage in particular still really hits me — capturing a feeling I have experienced many times myself, especially as a teen. And like me, Betsy seeks refuge in her writing. Yet she still hides it away. The other girls don’t write, and the boys tease her about being a Little Poetess. She recognizes that she wants to be a writer some day, and even that her older sister Julia (who wants to be an opera singer and “never cared what people thought”) would never have put that trunk in the attic and “buried her poems in a handkerchief box”.

But while Betsy recognizes this, she doesn’t change her ways. When she’s chosen to participate in the annual school essay contest (competing against handsome but perplexing Joe Willard) she is thrilled, yet still doesn’t manage to handle it the way she might wish. But she does learn from the experience:

She looked back over the crowded winter. She did not regret it. But she should not have let its fun, its troubles, its excitements squeeze her writing out.

“If I treat my writing like that,” she told herself, “it may go away entirely.”

The thought appalled her. What would life be like without her writing? Writing filled her life with beauty and mystery, gave it purpose… and promise.

When Betsy finally acts on that realization I am cheering for her! And even now, it never fails to remind me, as a writer, that I have to make room for writing in my life.

There’s so much more I could talk about: the thoughtful portrayal of religion, the way Lovelace captures the exquisite ache of a first (unrequited) crush, all the wonderful period details, Betsy’s steadfast friendship with Tacy. But I’ll leave you all to find out about that if you read this book for yourself.
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LibraryThing member mkochel
One of my favorites of my favorite series of books.
LibraryThing member satyridae
9/2012 Lovelace is such a good writer. I did not notice the artfulness when I was a child reading these books, I only knew I loved them.

12/2009 Is it monotonous to start all my BT reviews with "I love this book"? Well, too bad, I LOVE this book. It's extremely well-written, but that's not why I
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love it. I don't think I even noticed it was made of words till I was out of my own teens.

Betsy is a freshman at Deep Valley High School, and in this eventful year she goes through some very traumatic times with less than the poise and ease she thinks she ought. Her first love is not smooth. Her first essay contest is sabotaged... by her own inattention. She has to decide if she wants to stay with the church of her childhood or change to the church which speaks to her heart. She learns a great deal about being true to herself, though, as we will see in the next few books, not nearly enough.
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LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
In a bittersweet moment at the close of Heaven to Betsy, Betsy reflects on her childhood home on Hill Street, which she was loathe to leave, and which now seems to belong wholly to the past: "And yet, even as she spoke, she knew that she did not wish to come back, not to stay, not to live. She
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loved the little yellow cottage more than she loved any place on earth, but she was through with it except in her memories." That sense, of leaving behind childish things, is continually evoked in this, Maud Hart Lovelace's fifth book detailing the adventures of Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly, two best friends growing up in early twentieth-century Minnesota.

Just entering high school, Betsy and Tacy find a new world opening up before them, complete with new friends, a seemingly endless round of parties and activities, and all the pleasure and heartache of having "beaus" for the first time. Now a part of "The Crowd," Betsy and Tacy are soon involved in the social rituals of their teen years, with all the special vocabulary - pet phrases in Latin, references to the TDS (Tall, Dark Stranger) - and lighthearted fun one would expect. Although not boy-crazy like Betsy, who develops her first true crush on Deep Valley newcomer Tony Markham, Tacy nevertheless maintains an interest in, and sympathy for her friend's activities. But as freshman year draws to a close, it becomes apparent that something is off-kilter in their world...

Like Betsy when her family moves from Hill to High Street, I wasn't quite sure that I would like these new developments. I regretted the loss of the imaginative girl-child of Lovelace's first four books, not sure I would take to this giddy new creature who seemed determined to sell herself short at every opportunity. I resented the absence of Tib, whose sensible approach to matters always served as an excellent counter-balance to Betsy's exuberance, and longed to see more of Tacy, who seemed to have become a low narrative priority, subsumed by "The Crowd." I missed Lois Lenski's illustrations, which always seemed to perfectly match Lovelace's text, and found Vera Neville's work rather sentimental in comparison.

In short, I had reservations about the changes in Betsy-Tacy's world, however inevitable they may have been, and - having never really experienced the kind of adolescence described therein - found myself emotionally indifferent throughout much of the novel. Fortunately, my reading experience was redeemed by the sense of family love to be found in the Ray home; by the frank and tolerant manner in which Lovelace and her characters approached the issue of religious conviction, in the episodes involving Betsy and Julia's desire to become Episcopalians; and by Betsy's realization at the end of her freshman year that she should not have abandoned her writing.

This last factor, in particular, had me breathing a sigh of relief, as I realized that Betsy hadn't really changed, that she had just - as must we all - been going through some growing pains. It may not have had the magic of Betsy-Tacy or the other early books, but Heaven to Betsy strikes me as a necessary transition to the later books, which I now eagerly look forward to reading!
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LibraryThing member fuzzi
Betsy is two years older, and heading for high school with old friends and new, exploring new interests, and feeling the effects of attention from young men. I like how religion, principles, and moral courage were interjected to the narrative with a gentle hand, making for a slightly more "grown
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up" story.
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LibraryThing member nx74defiant
Betsy starts high school. She goes a little boy crazy. She lets the fun of parties and activities crowd out her writing. But she learns she must balance things better. Very sweet.
LibraryThing member Marypo
Wow. That had to be one of the most chronically shallow main characters I've seen in quite a while. What's worse is that there is no character growth. Betsy cares about two things: her looks and the string of boys she drags around and brags about. When she is called out for not being able to skate,
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she pretends to have a sprained ankle in order to garner pity and avoid hurting her pride, and she then bemoans the loss of her "tall, dark stranger." Those are her words, not mine. She gloats over how three boys are supposedly in love with her, stranger included, and all of it is so pathetic.
Add to that the witchcraft, Betsy's fixation on parties (to flirt with boys, obviously) and gossip, as well as the lack of adventure and character development, and it becomes pretty obvious why I wouldn't recommend this, especially for its target audience.
Betsy is also very one-dimensional, and has no qualms about hurting other people, only caring about doing what will make her look good in front of her peers.
This quote from page 178 sums things up nicely: She prayed that she might grow prettier, that Tony might come to love her, that she might be a writer someday.
That's about the depth of her character.
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
I so very much enjoyed this. I feel like young Betsy is a young me.
LibraryThing member PatsyMurray
i am enjoying the books more as Betsy grows older. This is my first time reading them and I am able to read them all in order which is very interesting.
LibraryThing member reader1009
Children's fiction/Christian. Cute series appropriate for children & tweens. This book is from the middle of the series, where Betsy (Bettina) begins to "go with" boys (generally in the company of her other school friends) at the start of her high school years. Themes: tolerance (of other Christian
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denominations), scholarship (Betsy learns the importance of studying hard).
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(127 ratings; 4.1)
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