Thursday, March 5, 2009

Harriet the Spy

Finished Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. This is one of the books from my childhood that I am a bit embarrassed to admit I've never read before. Published in 1964, it is the story of an 11 year old girl who wants to be a writer some day. Her nanny, Ole Golly, encourages her to write down all her observations of the world in a notebook. This becomes Harriet's main focus in life, spying and recording what she sees and thinks. She is brutally honest in what she writes.

Harriet is very reliant on Ole Golly for consistency, comfort and understanding. Eventually Ole Golly leaves to get married. She feels that Harriet is old enough to get along without her. The transition is very difficult. To complicate this Harriet loses her notebook of observations. It is found by her classmates who read its contents out loud. Harriet's friends and classmates then ostracize her. Her reactions to this seem childish, but, then again, she is a child. I think in some ways, when Ole Golly suddenly leaves, Harriet regresses a bit. Change is hard on children of any age. Harriet was used to confiding in Ole Golly. She does not confide in her parents. Thus she attempts to face everything alone.

Harriet's parents, not knowing what is going on, see her grades suffer and her moods swing. They take her notebook away from her and send her to a shrink. They also contact Ole Golly who sends Harriet a very firm, but wise letter. In it she says that if Harriet's notebook were to fall into the wrong hands there are two things she will have to do, apologize and lie, "Little lies that make people feel better are not bad, like thanking someone for a meal they made even if you hated it. But to yourself, you must always tell the truth."

I wasn't that keen on this book at first. It seemed harsh, particularly Harriet's observations of people. It grew on me though. There is a very interesting article about Harriet on NPR's website entitled Unapologetically Harriet, the Misfit Spy.

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