The YA Downton Abbey

I think it started on Twitter. Someone mentioned Downton Abbey. And then I kept seeing mentions and comments on Facebook and then it entered dinner conversation. It seemed every person I knew was becoming more obsessed with Downton Abbey.

It took me about a year to catch up, and I’m still not quite there yet, being only in the middle of Season One, but I finally watched the show. And I got it. Man did I. The writing, the scenery, the clothes. Ohmygod, the clothes. I love this show.

And yet something about it seemed oddly familiar. Especially the clothes, and then I realized I’d been reading a series set in this time period for years, the Betsy-Tacy Series by Maud Hart Lovelace. If you like Downton Abbey, you may also like Betsy Tacy. If you are a writer, you will love Betsy.

The books are a semi-autobiographical account of Maud’s (Betsy’s) life growing up in Mankato Minnesota at the turn of the century. The first four books are charming and for a younger audience, but as soon as she hits high school, the series gets really good. Maud describes the clothes and the music and life in the Middle West so beautifully and un-self-consciously, you feel you are a part of Betsy’s crowd going to the moving picture show, singing around a piano and seeing your first automobile.

When Betsy goes abroad her junior year of college in “Betsy and the Great World,” she brings Europe at the brink of WWI alive. In fact, the book served as a travel guide for me when I went to Venice, Munich and Paris.

So is this book truly the young adult Downton Abbey? Not really. The time period is the same, but Betsy offers an American middle class  view, whereas Downton Abbey is a British aristocratic or servant class view.

But for fans of truly great historical fiction, I highly recommend Betsy-Tacy. Tear through the first few, just to get a sense of the characters, then dive into the high school world. Other famous fans of the book include Judy Blume, Meg Cabot, and Bette Midler. Betsy even gets an obscure reference in the Meg Ryder movie- You’ve Got Mail.

5 thoughts on “The YA Downton Abbey

  1. Amanda Brice says:

    Oh my goodness, I’d forgotten all about those books! I read them when I was a preteen and loved them!

  2. Lynne says:

    Reread them! And maybe pick up the series for your daughter. They tend to go in and out of print and they’re in print now, so take advantage.

  3. BookClubGirl says:

    I felt the same way watching Downton – thinking “oh, I’m seeing dresses I’ve only known from Maud Hart Lovelace’s descriptions!” My absolute favorites, which I also reread faithfully to this day. Will you perhaps be joining us in Minneapolis and Mankato this July?

    1. Lynne says:

      Book Club Girl- Glad to find another Ardent fan. I am desperate to go to Mankato this July. I’m trying to save the money, but I hope I can make it. If not this year, one year for sure.

  4. Amanda Brice says:

    OK, I just skimmed this blog yesterday because the baby was screaming, so I didn’t catch where you said there’s a whole high school and college component to this series. I’d already read the ones where she was a little girl. Ooh, I’m intrigued!

    Off to Amazon to find the older ones!

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