Book Review: *Emily of Deep Valley* by Maud Hart Lovelace

  • Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (October 12, 2010)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062003300
  • Back-of-the-book blurb:  Emily Webster, an orphan living with her grandfather, is not like the other girls her age in Deep Valley, Minnesota. After graduation, she longs to join the Crowd and go off to college—but she can’t leave her grandfather alone at home. Resigning herself to a “lost winter,” Emily nonetheless throws herself into a new program of study and a growing interest in the local Syrian community, and when she meets a handsome new teacher at the high school, Emily gains more than she ever dreamed possible.

    Maud Hart Lovelace’s only young adult stand-alone novel, Emily of Deep Valley is considered by fans of her beloved Betsy-Tacy series to be one of the author’s finest works.

    She Is Too Fond of Books’ review:  I think I’ve now read all of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books (although I suppose there may be other treasures waiting to be reissued to a new-to-you audience; HarperPerennial has been pulling these out-of-print childhood classics out of the vault).  To me, Emily of Deep Valley stands apart for several reasons.

    This novel is set in Deep Valley, the same fictional town that embraced Betsy Ray, Tacy Kelly, Carney Sibley, and other members of “the Crowd,” the most popular group at Deep Valley High.  Emily Webster attended Deep Valley High, too, and was invited along to the outings and parties with the rest of the group, but she never felt completely comfortable in these social settings.  Emily is an orphan, and feels a responsibility to grandfather, who has raised her.  Often, instead of joining “the Crowd” at a house party or skating outing, she chooses to go home to spend the evening with him.

    Their home isn’t set in the center of Deep Valley, like most of the high school students; Emily and Grandpa Webster live across the slough (a wide marshy land, pronounced “sloo”), near a settlement of Syrian immigrants.  At times Emily is almost ashamed of the simple way she and her grandfather live – their little cottage is nearly preserved in time, with no updates in decor or convenience since her grandmother passed away.

    Emily experiences tremendous personal growth in this charming novel.  When members of “the Crowd” go off to college after graduating Deep Valley High, Emily wallows a bit in self-pity that she’s been left behind (of her own choosing, of course), and that she doesn’t quite fit in with either the college crowd or the high school crowd.  Little by little, she makes small (but significant) changes in her actions that reflect the unique woman she is, and she learns:

    “It’s amazing,” she thought, “what you can do when you muster your wits.”

    Isn’t that a wonderful expression?!  Muster your wits paints a picture of self-control, of determination, and of a person who is aligned with her sense of values.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the previous Betsy-Tacy books; those high school years showed such a wonderful ideal, perhaps a look through rose-colored glasses at a seemingly simpler time.  Emily of Deep Valley, however, holds my heart because I most strongly identified with the character of Emily Webster.  I found in her a soul sister of sorts, with her unconventional methods of finding her place in the world.  Mitali Perkins speaks to this in her foreword to the new edition, citing the way she connected with the character and how she appreciated Emily’s empathy for the Syrian immigrants.

    I highly recommend Emily of Deep Valley!  Although I’m hoping you’ll read all the Betsy-Tacy books, this novel can be read on its own and might make a good introduction if you don’t have time to commit to the entire series (make time!).

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