Emily of Deep Valley is a book set in the world of Maud Hart Lovelace's popular Betsy-Tacy books, but focuses on Emily Webster, a girl a few years behind them in school. I read a few of the Betsy Tacy books as a young girl, but I had never read this one. I was interested in reading it because Mitali Perkins has often said how much this book meant to her, and she also wrote the foreword. I'm not sure what I was expecting, maybe a nice little story, but I absolutely fell in love with this book.
Within just the first few chapters, I loved Emily, probably because she does in fact remind me of myself. Emily has a great group of friends, but she's a bit socially awkward and shy and doesn't always know what to say. She lives alone with her grandfather which puts more responsibility on her shoulders than other girls her age have and as such she'll be unable to attend college. She is very blue about this and that's when we meet Emily. But she is also loyal and kind, she understands what traditions mean to others and is extraordinarily compassionate and sympathetic. She talks about feeling depressed in the book and I think that being able to sympathize with others and feel deeply goes hand in hand with depression.
Emily hears a snatch of something in a sermon one day (and how I loved this natural way of using a sermon in the character's journey!) and decides to make changes for herself. She learns new things, makes new friends, and reaches out to others and all of these things bring her a measure of happiness and joy she couldn't have found otherwise.
Part of what makes Emily of Deep Valley so charming is the older small town setting, I think. It's hard not to feel some envy at the lack of distractions in their lives, the pressures being so much different. It doesn't mean that things are perfect, but different and there's a hope there that seems to be lacking in the world today. I loved that books were a natural influence and point of interest and it reminds me how yet again we've so fragmented ourselves in our individualistic society. books serve as a unifying and instructive and natural tool in the story..it's even through poetry that Emily begins to feel better about herself.
I also loved the Syrians that live near Deep Valley that Emily befriends and I LOVED that they were Christian immigrants. My modern day self cringed when Emily invites them to celebrate a popular Christian holiday thinking they might be offended but it turns out that's their faith..and it's a good reminder that we can't automatically associate a nationality with any one religion.
There's also of course some boys of interest that serve important roles in how Emily sees herself and Emily's changing feelings mirror Emily's inner transformation.
I loved the Christmas scene in this book for many reasons and the book as a whole. It's a wonderful feel good coming of age story that has an important role to play even today, I believe. In fact, I immediately texted my sister to find out if my nieces had these books...I can only imagine how much more I would have loved this if I'd read it as a young girl.
But I haven't missed everything...reading it as an adult for the first time has been a wonderful experience and one I'm thankful for.
Source of Book: Received for review from publisher
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Review: Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace