Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books were among my favorites as a child and young teen, and I was thrilled when the four high-school Betsy-Tacy novels and two "adult Betsy" stories were re-issued in 2009 as two-in-one volumes. However, Lovelace also wrote a couple of "spinoff" novels featuring characters introduced in those books, and those have always been harder to find. Harper Perennial has now reissued those as well, in editions that match last year's reprints and including new forewords and supplemental material.
I don't think I read Winona's Pony Cart as a child, although I knew Winona Root from the Betsy-Tacy stories beginning with Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. This story, featuring an eight-year-old Winona Root and appearances by Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, provides a little more background about a character that's both friend and rival to Lovelace's primary heroines. It's an enjoyable children's book - engagingly written, not overly cute, fun to read - but it is definitely a children's book, and therefore a bit too light a read for my personal taste. If I had a young daughter, I think I'd enjoy reading it to and/or with her, but for myself...well, if it weren't a companion to Carney's House Party, I'd probably have passed it up.
Carney's House Party falls chronologically in between Lovelace's Betsy and Joe and Betsy and the Great World and centers on Betsy's high-school friend Caroline "Carney" Sibley, returned to Deep Valley, Minnesota for the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Vassar College. Going back East for college is unusual for the kids in Betsy's Crowd, and it's broadening and reshaping Carney's view of the world. It's also made her wonder how her East Coast roommate Isobel, who has accompanied her back to Deep Valley, will perceive her family, her hometown, and her native Middle West.
It's quite a summer for visitors to Deep Valley, and they're converging on the Sibleys' house. The house party also includes Carney's dear friend Bonnie Andrews, recently returned from Europe, and Betsy Ray herself, headed back to Minneapolis after months spent at her grandmother's home in San Diego recovering from appendicitis. Also coming from California: Larry Humphreys, Carney's high-school boyfriend, who moved out there with his family four years earlier. Larry and Carney have faithfully exchanged letters since he left, but haven't seen each other, and it seems that neither can move ahead with certain aspects of their futures until they do.
It's a fun summer, full of games and parties, and friendship, but it's also a time of sorting out unfinished business and re-evaluating both old and new relationships.
I've only read Carney's House Party once before, and it was a long time ago. I didn't remember as much about it as I had of the Betsy-Tacy books, but I always liked Carney as a character and I enjoyed seeing her again. While her educational aims were higher than Betsy's, she was never as concerned with a career; Betsy always wanted to be a writer, but Carney and Bonnie had been preparing their hope chests since high school and were more interested in when - and with whom - they'd start families of their own. Carney had wondered for years if her future would be with Larry, and it's important - to both of them - to find out.
Like Lovelace's other novels featuring these characters as teenagers and adults, Carney's House Party contains details that place it at a specific point in time, and yet the story it tells isn't dated. The characters are well-developed and ring true - as they should, since they're nearly all based on real people in the author's life - and as such, they're timeless. This novel isn't essential to the Betsy Ray story, but it's an enjoyable read, both as a supplement to that story and in its own right.