Sunday, November 18, 2018

HARRIET THE SPY




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Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh, Random House, 1964, 300 pp
 
 
THE SUNDAY FAMILY READ
 
 
It was with great anticipation that I opened this middle grade novel from 1964. I have often come across characters in other novels who mention Harriet, as well as writers who extol the book for being influential to them from childhood. In fact, Miriam Toews, author of All My Puny Sorrows, said in an interview that Harriet the Spy was one of her favorite books as a kid.
 
I was expecting a lot and I got a lot but not what I expected. It is true that Harriet is plucky, always a good personality trait for a middle grade female protagonist. It is also true that she has to learn hard lessons and overcome a sort of bullying. She is not, however, a particularly nice child.

Harriet is impulsive, nosy, noisy, sometimes rude and quite judgmental about the grownups and kids she interacts with. She carries a notebook with her at all times, jotting down her observations about these people. She goes to school and does her homework but considers her real work to be spying. Everyday after school she visits locations on her "route" and notes what is going on. 

Eventually I got used to Harriet, even feeling sympathetic to her approach to life and admired her independence. Being the only child of wealthy parents who had turned her over to a "nurse" whom she calls Ole Golly (a wise sort who encourages Harriet while giving good life advice) it is quite a shock to the girl and the reader when Golly finds a suitor, marries him and moves away.

Harriet's journal and her disturbing behavior after Golly leaves land her in big trouble at school. She overcomes it but the lesson she "learns" is to remain true to herself and use her proclivities more cunningly to turn her situation around.

By the end, I got why so many admire the book. It is a story for rebels, outliers, fiercely independent types, and of course writers. Harriet discovers she is a writer but also that her spying powers her writing. She could grow up to someone like Patricia Highsmith!!

Warning to moms: if you want your daughters to become nice, well-behaved women who fit in comfortably, don't let them read this one.


(Harriet the Spy is available in paperback and hardcover on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

16 comments:

  1. I liked that you empathized with Harriet in the end, and also liked the warning in your last sentence; it's very appropriate. ;-)

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  2. I think I read this one - but it's been so long I don't recall it. So it would be ripe for a reread. I'm glad you refreshed my memory. Like how she carries her notebook around, ha.

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    1. You know, I don't know what I would have thought of the book if I had read it as a kid.

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  3. Lovely review. Glad to see you've read and enjoyed this classic novel!

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  4. Why would anyone want to consign their daughter to a life as a well-behaved woman who comfortably fit in?

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    1. Well I completely agree with you JoanneMarie. I was raised by a mother who did her best to consign me to such a life and have been breaking out ever since!

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  5. I loved this book as a child! I'm glad you enjoyed it in the end. You've made me want to read it again :)

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    1. If I had been a child in 1964 I would have too. So glad I read it now.

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  6. I never read Harriet and I can't remember if my daughters ever did, although she certainly sounds like someone they both would have empathized with.

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    1. So far from all the comments I have gotten, girls who did read Harriet all liked her just fine!

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  7. My daughter used to love Harriet the Spy! Thanks for the memories.

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    1. It is unanimous! You are welcome.

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  8. I've never read this but my daughter loved it. I know this feeling that you have about Harriet because I've up against it a few times myself over the last decade, reading children's books. I've wondered if it wasn't because I'm getting older, or that I'm in a wrong mood when I read because all of the books I've read have been highly acclaimed by both critics and readers. Maybe I forget what it was like to be young and testing boundaries.

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    1. I get what you are saying. In my case I think it is sometimes because I hope my offspring don't have to make all the mistakes I did.

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