While characters from Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series make guest appearances in this novel, Emily of Deep Valley stands on its own; perhaps that's why I'd never read it until now, although I've read nearly all of the author's other books multiple times. This is genuinely a case of "better late than never," though. I'm pleased to have finally made the acquaintance of Emily Webster. We met while I was nursing a dislocated shoulder, and her story was a perfect comfort read.
Emily isn't another version of Betsy Ray, and her Deep Valley, Minnesota isn't the same as Betsy's either. Orphaned Emily was raised by her grandparents, and is her grandfather's primary caretaker now that her grandmother has passed on. She has plenty of girl friends, but is neither boy-crazy nor a boy-magnet, although she is respected by her fellow members of the Deep Valley High School debate team, where she's the only girl. As she approaches the end of senior year, Emily has reluctantly accepted that her responsibilities at home will keep her from going off to college like the rest of her crowd, but she's really not sure what to expect from life after high school. Struggling to keep her wits and spirits up as the summer ends and her friends leave town, Emily hatches a few projects that take her in unanticipated directions, enlarging her world and bringing new people into it.
Because she's grown up in different circumstances, Emily has a maturity that Betsy didn't have at the same age, although she still has some growing up to do, and her first year after high school affords her many opportunities to do that, even without college. Her challenges are different from Betsy's as well, as is the way she rises to meet them. I found her to be determined, sympathetic, and endearing, and I was particularly charmed by her relationship with her grandfather, who seems to be as energized by Emily's projects as she is. Lovelace introduces some memorable characters in this novel as she writes about life in her well-known town from a new perspective, but she allows Emily to mingle with some familiar players as well. As noted, this is a stand-alone novel, but if you've read the Betsy-Tacy books, it's enjoyable to see how some of the characters from those become part of Emily's story.
Emily of Deep Valley is a coming-of-age novel for all ages, and despite its early-20th-century setting, doesn't feel dated. I found it a joy to read, and it will go on my "keeper" shelf with my other Maud Hart Lovelace books.