Book Review Blog, Episode One – Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy.
The story follows sixth-grade “spy” Harriet M. Welsch as she spies on people in her neighborhood. Her life is thrown into disarray when her nanny, Catherine “Ole” Golly, moves to Montreal to marry her fiance. Things get worse for Harriet when she drops her notebook during a game of tag, and one of her best friends reads it aloud to their classmates.
Fitzhugh, L. (1992). Harriet the spy. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
I did not like this book and am unaware of why it’s a classic. Harriet is a snot-nosed little brat who barely grows throughout the story. Yeah, she has absentee parents who are too concerned with their work, appearances, and social life to raise Harriet, hence the full-time nanny, but Ole Golly seems to have brought Harriet up correctly. Despite Golly’s strict rearing, Harriet is a punk. She bumps into the cook (also a full-time employee) on a daily basis and doesn’t stop or apologize. Harriet writes down awful things she observes or speculates about her neighbors and classmates, then publishes them in her school newspaper! It’s irresponsible journalism on her, and her editor’s, part for not fact-checking Harriet’s stories. Not only does she write awful things, but she does and says deplorable things to her classmates when they rightfully turn against her. I cannot stand her character because of how terrible she is.
I struggled to finish the book because of how much I disliked Harriet. The story has no real plot to me; it’s just looking at Harriet’s life at these moments in time. Conflict really doesn’t arise until what feels like halfway through the second book (the book itself is broken up into three books of unequal length). The lack of a Major Dramatic Question so late in the book makes it tough to keep reading, but I trudged through it.
Another reason I disliked it is because it doesn’t speak to me one way or the other. I wasn’t raised in or around 1964 (I’m apparently a millennial), spies don’t necessarily pique my interest (unless it’s Michael Weston from Burn Notice), and I am not a female. A former co-worker of mine loved the book for the opposite reasons. Also, since Harriet is affluent, I developed a quick dislike for her and her parents (I hated Gatsby and I quit Bonfire of the Vanities halfway through because of all of the rich people and their fancy problems).
The plot is fairly believable, but most of the stuff Harriet does as a spy would get a kid shot (especially in Texas), arrested, or get CPS called on their parents if it took place nowadays. It’s easy to read versus a difficult text. I don’t like to tell people to stay away from certain things, or even recommending with my reasons, because I would rather they experience it and form their own opinions without my bias, and I don’t take exception to that with this book. Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book or it won’t reach a different reader, but if I HAVE to give a recommendation, then I would say don’t bother.
Schmitz, T. (2001). Characters you can count on. Horn Book Magazine, 77(5), 557-567. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
In sharp contrast to the kinder, gentler eras represented by the Moffats and the All-of-a-Kind Family is the sophisticated, entitled world of Harriet M. Welsch and her friends Beth Ellen and Sport. Delacorte is publishing new editions of the three novels by Louise Fitzhugh in which they appear: Harriet the Spy (1964), The Long Secret (1965), and Sport (1979). Harriet the Spy is a genuine classic that holds up to re-reading, but time has not been kind to the other two. Harriet the Spy was a groundbreaking novel, featuring a rude, incredibly inquisitive heroine who threw tantrums, mocked her parents, and alienated her classmates with her obsessive note-taking and candid opinions about their personal habits. She also happened to be extremely funny. Louise Fitzhugh’s unsentimental portrait of Harriet paved the way for writers like Judy Blume to present contemporary children grappling with hitherto unmentionable problems.
The book could be used to highlight classic children’s literature or female protagonists. If I were to go farther and out of the box, then I would highlight the dialogue Fitzhugh uses when Harriet drops eaves on her parents. Several words are replaced with the word mumble to show that the adult is either using profanity, a word Harriet doesn’t know, or something she can’t quite hear while listening in on conversations.