Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace
Goodreads: Emily of Deep Valley
Summary: Emily Webster longs to go to college with all of her friends, but has to stay home to care for her grandfather. As she watches her former crowd move on without her, she begins to lose interest in life and to struggle with finding her place in the world. Only when she stops feeling sorry for herself and decides to take control of her future does she realize that her home of Deep Valley has a lot to offer. Emily decides to keep up her studies and to help her immigrant neighbors transition into their new life. Her new sense of identity also brings her her first encounter with love. A companion to the Betsy-Tacy books.
Review: Emily of Deep Valley is a quiet book that does not apologize either for its simplicity or for its tendency toward the sentimental. The plot revolves around the day-to-day life of Emily and her grandfather and little action occurs. The highlights of the story are for the readers, as for Emily, the few festivities that break up the calendar year–Decoration Day, Easter, and Christmas. The story must engage not through drama or even humor, but through the reader’s sympathy with the protagonist and interest the secondary characters. As a result, the book speaks most strongly to those who can relate to Emily–quiet readers, studious readers, readers who do not socialize much, or readers who feel they are missing their purpose in life.
The story, in fact, seems to count on readers recognizing themselves in Emily, for it reads very much at times like a treatise on how to improve one’s life. Emily’s rallying cry becomes “Marshal your wits!” and the readers are invited to respond, to take charge of themselves, and to make themselves useful. Emily becomes a role model as she stops feeling sorry that nothing ever happens to her and makes things happen herself. She begins to study literature, to study music, and to reach out a hand to others who may feel like outcasts. She deliberately goes outside her comfort zone as she learns to dance and tries to socialize more. Her efforts pay off. She not only makes herself happier, but also improves the lives around her. Only by finding her own identity can she learn to judge the characters of those around her and to form meaningful relationships.
The book seems to walk a fine line between entertaining and instructing, but its own self-awareness helps readers forgive its obvious moral overtones. Emily the character seems inseparable from Emily the book and one particularly cynical character accuses Emily of being sentimental. Emily, of course, defends herself and all the sentimentalists of the world by declaring that hope and idealism are what help people through life. Lovelace is essentially telling her critics that they turn up their noses all they want; she knows what it is her readers need.
Even those who feel wary of the sentimental, however, should be encouraged by the novel’s theme of empowerment. Lovelace makes it very clear that a man cannot give Emily direction or purpose in life. In fact, many of Emily’s problems initially stem from her inability to detach herself emotionally from a less than desirable love interest. Emily only finds romance after she has made a commitment to improve herself and find her own way. Her confidence and unique sense of purpose are part of what make her so attractive, and the man who wins her heart has the ability to complement her skills while helping her develop them.
The main flaw of the book proves Lovelace’s tendency to describe a lot of the interactions and characterizations, rather than to show them. Readers may feel they do not really know a lot of the characters, but only have a vague idea of their personalities. Furthermore, the characterization is often given through Emily’s eyes, which can cause confusion as the reader tries to determine whether the author meant the descriptions to be accurate or whether she merely meant to give Emily’s skewed perception. The problem arises from the awkward realization that all of Emily’s observations seem to be right, except in regards to one character. If that perception is flawed, however, it only stands to reason that the others could be wrong, as well.
Overall, Emily of Deep Valley is a pleasant read sure to appeal to readers who enjoy period coming-of-age stories. It does not set itself apart from the many similar books out, but does contain a valuable lesson about everyday courage and hope. Its greatest strength is in speaking to the multitudes of readers who have felt lonely or neglected in social situations or who have felt that their lives were passing by. In that sense, it stands with the best of literature, the kind that assures you that you are not alone.