As I’ve gotten older, I continue to re-read this series every year or so. With every read I am more impressed by the talent of Maud Hart Lovelace. I also enjoy seeing how different books ‘speak’ to me more at different times. Currently, the one that speaks to me the most is Emily of Deep Valley—and I think it’s become my favorite in the series.
Emily Webster is as unlike Betsy Ray as she could be. More introverted and serious than outgoing social butterfly Betsy, Emily seems to have more in common with Margaret Ray. Emily is dedicated to her studies, the star of the debate team, and you sense that she would never be distracted from something like an essay contest (if that were her dream) by troubles of the heart.
Not that Emily doesn’t have heartache. She’s hopelessly in love with her cousin Annette’s boyfriend Don. And Don is completely unworthy of Emily, with his narcissistic tendency to use her as a prop for his low self-esteem one moment and totally disregard her the next. (In fact, I think he is arguably the most unlikable character in the whole series—thoughts?) Still, Emily longs for him to look at her like he does Annette.
Another heartache for Emily is that she wants to go to college with her friends—realizing she’d probably get more out of it than most of them—but can’t because her Grandpa needs her. Grandpa Webster has raised her since her parents, and later, her grandmother died, and Emily loves him fiercely, as well as feels responsible for him. Emily knows that it was an act of love for Grandpa to ‘allow’ her to finish high school because he is old-fashioned.
Emily of Deep Valley opens with Emily’s high school graduation and her gradually-building sense of loneliness throughout the summer, as she is confronted with how ‘on the fringes’ she is, even with her high school friends. Her feelings of isolation deepen once they all depart for college, leaving her with nothing to look forward to except a lonely winter…or so she thinks.
After a few months of self-pity as she tries to recapture the happiness of her high school days with embarrassing results, Emily finds motivation in a quote from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost: ‘muster your wits; stand in your own defense.’ Instead of focusing on what she doesn't have and what she can't do, Emily decides to work with what she has: her natural intelligence and curiosity; an enthusiastic and willing accomplice in her Grandpa; relationships she has already developed in the community; and the funds to get started.
With her friends back at school after an unfulfilling Christmas break, Emily begins a plan of self-improvement that includes dance lessons, a literary society, and most importantly of all, becoming involved in the education of some Syrian children who live nearby. Emily’s Grandpa approves of her new regimen, noting worriedly that she has looked lonely. He soon joins in on her education of the children as she draws the children into their family—and finds herself drawn into the warmth of the Syrian families in return.
Emily’s mustered wits eventually lead her to a new sense of purpose, more confidence in herself as a person and as a woman, an awakening about the true nature of Don, and of course, true love.
5 things to love about Emily of Deep Valley:
1. Emily Webster is a truly lovable, REAL character. It’s easy to identify with her feelings of isolation, occasional hopelessness, and unrequited love. And it’s inspiring to watch her take control of her destiny. The ending of this book will leave you smiling, with happy tears in your eyes.
2. The relationship between Emily and her Grandpa, and both of them with the Syrian children. Totally endearing.
3. How the mother she never knew becomes more real to Emily as she unconsciously follows in her footsteps.
4. The skill with which Maud Hart Lovelace’s writing deals with the intolerance and prejudice within the community of Deep Valley and the satisfaction the reader feels when Emily wins everyone over.
5. Jed Wakeman. Hot, kind, family values, appreciates Emily for her total awesomeness. What’s not to love?
I can think of many more than five, but this post has to end sometime. I will say that every time I pass a white hydrangea bush, I think of Grandpa Webster and the flower for his uniform. In fact, driving past one earlier this week is what inspired this post.
If you haven’t read Emily of Deep Valley, you’re in for a treat (and it’s just been reprinted, so you won’t have to stalk for a library discard like I did). It's the literary equivalent of comfort food and a perfect story to read whenever you're feeling like life isn't turning out the way you thought it should.
Do you love Emily of Deep Valley? What’s your favorite Lovelace book? Sound off in the comments!