DilDeewana is right, it’s so good! So very very good! It’s got a radical social message, it’s got a Jerk Man who is accurately described as a Jerk Man, and it has a loving kind grandfather. And a heroine who is an odd fit with girls her own age but discovers the joys of maturity.
I love this book! It threw me right back to when I first discovered Lovelace at age ten and suffered AGONIES because I had to stop reading while I was at school.
Let me count the ways I love it:
- The way our heroine struggles with her internal doubts, but never actually humiliates herself in public, remains dignified always.
- The loving relationship between grandfather and granddaughter, both appreciating the best parts of each other and ignoring the worst
- The joys of a challenging interesting intellectual life, even going to a dance is fun because you can talk politics in an interesting way as much as dancing
- The joys of clothes!!!! Intellectual growth is great, but it doesn’t mean you can’t also be excited about clothes.
- The sense that a full life is about serving a greater good in one way or another, having work and a purpose, that is the only way to true contentment.
- Everyone is ready to help our heroine, she has to struggle her way to finding herself by herself because it is an individual job, but there people all around just waiting to be asked to help.
- Mr. Wakeman. He’s dreamy.
How much did you love it? And why?
Also, important discussion questions!
Terrible men contest: Is Don worse, or the Racist School Board Member? On the one hand, the Racist School Board Member has real power in the world. On the other hand, he is capable of listening to others and respecting their opinion while Don is not. On the third hand, Don is young and might still grow into a good person. On the fourth hand, can he really? Is there any growth possible there? Yes, I think I hate Don worst of all.
Wonderful men contest: Grandfather, Mr. Wakeman, or Cab? So sue me, I’m going with Cab!!!! Grandfather and Mr. Wakeman are wonderful men, but they also have a particular interest in being kind to Emily because they love her. Cab is just a really really nice man who is nice to people because he is nice.
Wonderful women contest: Miss Fowler the English teacher, or Miss Cobb the spinster piano teacher raising her nephew? Miss Fowler!!!! Miss Cobb has the more striking back story, giving up her own dreams to raise her nephews and watching them sicken and die except for one. But Miss Fowler!!!! She volunteers to teach evening classes on Browning to interested young women, she fights the school board to provide citizenship classes to the Syrians, she even match-makes between Mr. Wakeman and Emily!!! She is my HEROINE!!!
Cousin Annette and Family: Good relatives, or bad relatives? I think they could do a heck of a lot more, but they actually would if someone asked them too. It’s not that they have abandoned Emily and Grandpa, it’s that Emily and Grandpa have firmly set limits and Annette and Family respect them. Annette would be happy to talk boys with Emily or give her fashion advice or sympathize sincerely with her misery, if Emily would let her. And Aunt Sophie and Uncle Chester would probably be open to taking Emily into their household for high school and hosting parties and things for her, she just didn’t want it. So I’m going with not the BEST relatives (they could have aggressively forced help on Emily and Grandpa), but not BAD relatives.
Annette and Don’s engagement, Will it Last? Do We Want it To? I really really don’t want it to last! I think Annette has a power to her that no one else is really aware of (the way she hosts and coordinates “crowd” events tells me there is some subtle social manipulation there) and I think if she does marry Don, she will be the making of him, smoothing over all his awkwardness and offensiveness and making him a success. But I also think Annette is nice and deserves more! Someone she doesn’t have to be constantly cleaning up after and saying “he really is nice, you know, when we are alone”. My best hope is that Annette will decide on her own she is done with the engagement and nicely handle Don so he leaves her alone. And then Don can marry some snobby East Coast woman who can join him in sneering at things.
Mr. Wakeman and Emily: Is he going to go back to school and write her letters, or is he settling in Deep Valley? I wasn’t sure at the end. And I kind of want him to settle, I want Emily to be a High School Teacher’s Wife and host ladies improvement classes and political rallies and eventually run for School Board President and unseat Racist Man. But I would also be okay I guess if he goes back to school, writes her letters, and they get married in one or two years and he takes a job teaching at a university or at some other high school or something. I have confidence that Our Emily will find a way to blossom where ever she is, especially with a nice SUPPORTIVE man at her side (stupid Don, totally blighted her whole high school career by keeping her constantly on edge. At least, that’s what I think). Oh, and if Mr. Wakeman and Emily end up in New York, she could be best friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, and that would make me happy.
Best Self-improvement plan: Browning classes, Dance classes, or putting up her hair? Putting up her hair. It’s not even close.
Mr. Wakeman=Vicky Kaushal