The humiliating truth was that she had not succeeded in changing herself.
She had had fun telling Tacy that she was going to change, and even more fun plotting out with the admiring Tib a thrilling glamorous transformation. But facing the facts in her lonely bed, Betsy realized that it was much easier to plot out something than it was for her to do it. Just as, when they were younger, she and Tacy had loved to dream up wild deeds but it had usually been Tib who carried them out. (from Betsy in Spite of Herself, page 553)
Betsy in Spite of Herself, the sixth Betsy-Tacy book, originally published in 1946, finds our beloved Betsy Ray starting her sophomore year at Deep Valley High and preparing to turn 16. Betsy has a lot of friends -- a lot of boy friends -- but none of these boys feel anything romantic for her nor she for them. Like many high school girls now and at the turn of the century, when the book takes place, Betsy wishes she was prettier, more sophisticated, and more mysterious. When her childhood friend Tib invites her to spent two weeks with her family in Milwaukee -- where she has been living for a few years, much to the disappointment of Betsy and her best friend, Tacy -- Betsy has a chance to remake herself. Betsy plans a great transformation to "Betsye" -- and she has her eye on the new boy in school, Phil Brandish, a sort of "bad boy" and one of the few people in the small Minnesota town of Deep Valley to own an automobile.
However, Betsy can't fool her friends Cab and Tony (Tony being the "Tall Dark Stranger" she had a crush on in Heaven to Betsy), who don't understand why she puts on airs when Phil is around, and Betsy can't fool herself either. She is determined to grab Phil's attention, and she succeeds in winning his affections, but when his jealousy pushes away the boys she counts among her closest friends -- never mind the fact that Phil only talks about his car and doesn't understand Betsy's love for writing and her desire to compete against Joe Willard in the yearly essay contest -- Betsy slowly grows unhappy with the relationship.
Maud Hart Lovelace, who began writing the Betsy-Tacy series for her young daughter (born in 1931), truly remembered what it was like to be a young girl navigating the tumultuous emotions of adolescence, and she wrote about it honestly and eloquently. Lovelace understood the lengths that girls often go to impress a boy, how sometimes they will lose themselves, but that it's important to accept themselves as they are. This understanding of universal experiences and emotions is what makes the Betsy-Tacy books timeless.
With Betsy's older sister, Julia, graduating from high school, Betsy in Spite of Herself prepares readers for a new chapter in the life of the Ray family. Having so far accompanied Betsy on the journey from age 5 to 16, she feels real to me, and I can't wait to continue the series.
If you haven't already, you can read my other Betsy-Tacy reviews here:
Betsy-Tacy and Tib
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
Heaven to Betsy
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Betsy In Spite of Herself from HarperCollins for review purposes.