Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Betsy-Tacy and doing things to impress boys

I suppose there's a lot for an aspiring writer not to love in the reissuing of out-of-print books - after all, that's one less opening for a new writer in the current market - but a) my WIP is still a long way from being done, so it's really not an issue yet, and b) dude, how did I miss out on the Betsy-Tacy books as a kid?

Thanks to HarperCollins and the inimitable Jennifer Hart - and the guiding influence of Mitali Perkins - I'm making progress on Part B. Harper started reissuing Maud Hart Lovelace's* Betsy-Tacy series and related titles about a year ago. Last month, Jennifer was at the Boston Book Fest with $5 copies of the newest releases, so how could I resist? (Especially with Mitali's event - covered by Dawn at She Is Too Fond of Books - just around the corner.)

So my last two Saturdays have been spent engrossed in the world of Deep Valley (and the world of sailor suits, party caps, taffeta, and pompadours. There's a "fashion in Lovelace" post on the way).

This past weekend, it was Heaven to Betsy/Betsy in Spite of Herself, and Betsy in Spite of Herself left me thinking about the whole "change yourself to impress a boy" thing.

Betsy is clearly being dumb as she drops her friends and engrosses herself in Phil. It's kind of the high school version of something that comes up in both Dear Enemy (Gordon) and The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (Mark). (Have I mentioned that those two books have a lot in common? Yes. Go read them both.)

Doing-dumb-things-to-impress-boys shows up pretty often in YA lit. (Probably adult books, too, but it feels like less of a trope there. Or I just haven't read enough.) And it's one of those things that works in fiction because it's true. It certainly was for me. (I almost tried to dredge up examples. Happily, Open Diary appears to have removed long-neglected accounts of its early users, so I don't have to. Since I definitely wasn't thinking about posterity when I started my first proto-blog there, that's a good thing.)

But I can think of one thing that I did to impress a boy that was a net positive: learning to drive on the highway.

I got my driver's license when I was sixteen years, four months, and four days old - in other words, exactly four days after I met Connecticut's requirements for it. (And if the DMV inspectors hadn't been so overbooked, I would have gotten it on the very day I qualified. I was excited about driving.)

Highway driving had been part of both driver's ed and the practice I got with my parents, but sometime after I got my license I decided that I just couldn't do it. I don't remember why, but it probably had something to do with being an inexperienced driver in rush hour traffic, or something like that. As a result, "Sarah doesn't drive on the highway" was just the way it was during my junior year of high school, and most of my senior year.

Then there was a boy.

He didn't have a driver's license (in fact, he managed to go another year without getting one, despite the fact that we lived in an area with no public transit), which meant that if we were going to start dating, I would be doing all the driving.

And if we wanted to go to the movies, or Borders**, or pretty much anything outside of downtown Ridgefield, I'd have to drive on the highway to get us there.

I decided that it was worth overcoming that particular fear in order to be able to ask the boy out, so one morning I went out rather early, when I-84 wasn't too busy, and I drove. I made a few circuits of the territory between Exit 3 and Exit 9 - it wasn't likely I'd have a reason to go further east, and Exit 9 happened to be an easy one for reversing directions - and tried out the biggest challenge, the left exit I'd have to take to get to Federal Road.

I expect I was grinning a bit when I pulled back into my driveway. After a year and a half of refusing to do it, I'd managed to drive on the highway.

(I'm not sure whether this was the actual timing or whether it just makes a good story, but it may have been that night I asked the boy if he wanted to go see Moulin Rouge with me.)

The boy and I started dating a couple days after we saw Moulin Rouge, in the last few weeks of our senior year in high school. (Speaking of YA tropes, we were sure we'd manage to sustain a relationship even though we were about to leave for colleges 2000 miles apart. We almost did - for the first semester.)

It's been years now since the boy and I broke up. We're still good friends.

And I still drive on the highway - quite a lot. I even took a road trip by myself in the summer of 2009, driving from Connecticut to Florida and back. (No, I don't recommend it.)

I'm not going to say that I never would have reached that point if I hadn't been pushed by wanting to impress the boy. I would have figured it out someday.

But that was one time when a teen-girl crush pushed me in the right direction.

*I have very clear memories of getting a bookmark promoting the Maud Hart Lovelace Awards as a kid visiting the St. Paul Public Library. And yet it wasn't until recently I had any idea she was the author of the Betsy-Tacy books.

**Yeah, I wasn't indie bookstore girl back then. We ended up spending more than a few Friday nights hanging out at Borders. Yes, we're both nerds.


MissAttitude said...

The Besy-Tacy books are ones that I would never pick it up were not for the blogsphere. First Mitali, now you talking them up, I'll have to give them a go :)

Driving on the highway is scary! I barely do it, I envy all my friends who can. But I agree sometimes a crush can be really good for a girl.

If I find a guy who has cool with hanging at Borders, I will be quite happy! haha

Sarah Rettger said...

The best bit is even after we broke up, we'd still hang out at the bookstore together. (Now I just need to find another guy who's up for that...)

BookClubGirl said...

And that's one of the (many) things I love about Betsy - she does stupid things for boys, just like I did and just like I see teenage girls (and not so teenage girls) doing now. I love the honesty of her character. Thanks for a great post (and the props!). It was lovely to see you in Brookline, though it was too brief. Perhaps we'll lure you to Mankato in 2012??

Sarah Rettger said...

Perhaps indeed! I'm always up for a trip back to Minnesota.

Jen D-K said...

Awesome post, thank you! (apparently we both attended Mitali's event - such fun!)

Sarah Rettger said...

Glad you liked it, Jen! I'm sure we'll run into each other at another event soon.

Betsy Parkes said...

I loved Betsy Tacy books as a kid. My name is Betsy and my best friend was Tracy, and we were convinced the books were somehow secretly written about us. We were much younger than the characters, but we wanted it to be true so I guess that didn't matter. :)

Love the post. I've just added your blog to my list of blogs to check!

Betsy Parkes

Sarah Rettger said...

Thanks for stopping by, Betsy! (And that's adorable.)