What are the meanest things you've ever thought about your friends and schoolmates? What if you wrote them all down in a journal . . . then your classmates FOUND that journal and read everything? This is what happens in Harriet the Spy, the classic children's book by Louise Fitzhugh. Even though it was published in 1964, (or maybe because it was published in 1964 before books were flashy and sophisticated) it remains a shockingly honest children's book, in my humble opinion.
Harriet is an 11-year-old girl whose life's goal is to become a spy. She spies on people and writes about them in her secret notebook, all the while trying to understand things in her world — like being rich vs. poor, and loved vs. unloved. Harriet herself is the daughter of New York socialites, and was “raised” by her nurse Ole Golly. When Ole Golly leaves the family to get married, Harriet is left lacking a mother figure and advisor. This is just about when her friends find her secret notebook and all the mean things she has written about them.
For example, she writes:
“Carrie Andrews is considerably fatter this year.”
“And Laura Peters is thinner and uglier. I think she could use some braces on her teeth.”
“The reason Sport dresses so funny is that his father won't buy him anything to wear because his mother has all the money.”
“I don't know exactly if I like Rachael or whether it is just that I like going to her house because her mother makes homemade cake. If I had a club, I'm not sure I would have Rachael in it.”
YIKES. So now Harriet finds herself as an outcast, without any friends, and going to school each day is a nightmare. She gets tormented, and most of her nights are spent crying at home alone. How can Harriet fix this situation? You'll have to read the book to find out!
Even though this book was written so long ago, it feels timeless, like it could have been happening to kids at any time. Harriet wasn't a loveable character. I kept waiting for her to become loveable, but she never really did. Despite this, I was rooting for her to somehow redeem herself. She was so mean to her friends, but then they were so mean to her. It was crazy . . . I think this is why I kept reading! I'm not sure if the movie felt like this. (Did anyone see the movie? Michelle Trachtenberg played Harriet!)
I can see why this book is a classic, though. It is honest, frank, and kept me turning the pages. But I don't know many kids who would actually write such mean things down. Maybe it was a product of how she was raised . . . Hmm.
Anyways, have you guys read Harriet the Spy? Give a shout and let me know what you think.
— Ratha, STACKS Writer