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.