Top positive review
Truth and Consequences
Reviewed in the United States on October 21, 2014
Written by Louise Fitzhugh and published in 1964, HARRIET is set in New York City and describes the adventures and personal growth of an eleven year old girl. Harriet lives on the Upper East Side, the only child of an affluent couple; they have a cook, they send Harriet to a private school, and they employ a nanny of sorts in the form of Miss Golly, an acerbic woman of sharp intelligence who is given to unexpected quotes.
Harriet is a self-regimented child who likes the stability of repetition. Her room must be precisely so. She always takes tomato sandwiches to school for lunch. She always has cake and milk when she returns from school in the afternoon. She then goes out to spy on a number of people—a rich woman, an Italian family, a cat-crazy man, and a married couple who consider themselves perfect. Harriet writes about them in her notebook … but she also writes about her classmates and her best friends, and the brutal honesty of her thoughts causes five shades of hell when her notebook falls into their hands.
When the world changes around her in unexpected ways, Harriet finds herself unable to cope. In order to bring herself back into focus, she must learn to take responsibility for her actions, to show a little tact, and to be emotionally as well as factually honest. The resulting story is remarkable. Times have changed quite a bit, and eleven year olds seem to be knowledgeable beyond their years, but Harriet is still a winner. She’s rambunctious, laugh-out-loud funny, and yes, inspirational.
Although it usually lands on “best of” lists, HARRIET THE SPY has been greatly criticized over the years. The most persistent complaint leveled against the book is that Harriet is a mean kid who deliberately attacks her friends and classmates. I find the accusation a little silly: Harriet is not so much mean as outrageously honest, and she doesn’t deliberately insult her friends, although they certainly feel insulted when they read what she has privately written. More to the point, the book itself is about personal growth, and Harriet’s foibles (which range from trespassing to a mild profanity to classroom mayhem) are in the nature of lessons to be learned.
Author Louise Fitzhugh was lesbian, and more recently HARRIET THE SPY has been accused of having a homosexual agenda. Harriet is a girl who often dresses like a boy and who behaves in ways that seem boyish; she must, therefore be lesbian. Her friend Sport is a boy who seems somewhat weak; he must, therefore, be gay. And then there is this business about the boy who always purple socks. Everyone knows that purple is a color associated with gays and lesbians. Well … if you are determined to read a “homosexual agenda” into absolutely everything, I suppose you can scratch one out of this. But I’ll think you’re crazy and so will most other people.
Now and then I like to go back to some of the books I read when I was a child. There are the Brains Benton mystery series, and the Oz books, and the whole Hardy Boys/Tom Swift/Nancy Drew thing. And they are all fun and enjoyable in their ways. But to say it flatly, HARRIET THE SPY isn’t just a children’s book suitable for nostalgia; it is one of the best books I’ve read of any type. Simple as that. The 50th Anniversary Edition, available in both print and Kindle, comes complete with the original illustrations by Fitzhugh and a dozen or so essays by authors who comment on the impact the book had on them. Strongly recommend … for children and adults.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer