Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh

""Listen to this," Ole Golly said and got that quote look on her face....

"What does that mean?" Harriet asked after she had been quiet a minute. 

"What do you think it means?"

"Well, maybe if you love everything... then... then - I guess you'll know everything... then.... seems like... you love everything more. I don't know.  Well, that's about it."

 

Spoiler - Free Portion

 

So my birthday's on sunday - can't wait to see what you all are going to get me.

 

I'm so hyped

 

Anyway, while I'm waiting to turn another shade of 20's, I thought I'd get to writing this out while I wait for that Gyro to digest in my tummy.  Mmm. Lamb meat.

 

I had to read this for my childrens' lit class - and I'm glad I HAD to read this, because I may not had the urge to read this, due to my only knowledge of this book being the godawful Nickelodeon travesty that turned the whole book into a giant dramatic thing.  Oh, and the straight-laced Ole Golly was played by a wuvvable Rosie O'Donnell.

 

So yeah, my childrens' lit class was actually the first time I ever heard of this book.  And here I was, with the mistaken impression that Nickelodeon had come up with their own ideas.

 

Next thing I'm gonna learn is that this travesty was based off of a child's search for his identity as he slowly freezes to death

 

So, what IS this book about?

 

Harriet has one of the coolest hobbies imaginable for a kid living in a city like New York - she likes to keep up a "spy route" and keeps notes on a hand full of people that she finds fascinating enough to make a routine of finding hiding places to watch/listen to them during their daily routines.  She also has learned how to keep frank notes of her own opinion on what's going on in her life and with everything going on around her.  She writes everything down in a plain Composition notebook, which she keeps until she fills up, buys another one - rinse and repeat.  No, this is not portrayed as a lonesome, neurotic habit - perhaps an attempt to control things around her in her own way - this is, refreshingly, portrayed as her form of personal artistic expression, a way to indulge in her overwhelming creativity while also using it as practice for what is what she says to be her future as - what else?  A spy.

 

Her parents are the opposite of Helicopter Parents - Harriet's family is not wealthy, but she does have a personal chef (who makes her her white cake and tomato sandwiches, more or less dutifully) and, most importantly to Harriet, she is watched over by a nanny who is wise enough to understand Harriet's need for physical as well as emotional space while providing for the young girl a soft place to land whenever she needs advice or warmth - Ole Golly.

 

Erm, this would need to be brought up sooner than later, but Fitzhugh's art borders on terrifying and grotesque a lot of the time, and this depiction of Ole Golly is one of the more.... distracting pieces.  I have found that the art has grown on me immensely, but oftentimes I wonder if some illustrations are supposed to be as disturbing as they come off as being.

 

Harriet is also not wanting for friends, as she is close to two children - a boy and a girl - from her school who have personalities vastly differing from her own.  although Harriet has a habit of constantly pausing whatever she's doing to write down her thoughts and reflections in her notebooks, it is implied that she is very much well-adjusted, albeit one rather ambitious girl.

 

Harriet likes sameness, is comforted by things being the same every day.  Despite the fact that her parents are mainly absent from her life, she is happy with the way things are.

 

What could go wrong?

 

Spoilers

 

 

It's a pretty hard pill for anyone to swallow that you cannot trust others around the sanctity of your most private thoughts - and it's almost impossible to make others understand that your private thoughts about them d not mean, simply, that you secretly think less of them or hate them.

 

Harriet's life is completely de-railed when the notebook she is currently writing in is discovered by another girl in her class who is not a fan of hers.  This girl does the absolute worst thing imaginable to such a private, shielded personality like Harriet has - she reads aloud from the journal and uses it as a wedge to drive Harriet out from her circle of friends and acquaintances in the school. 

 

This leads to Harriet's uncomfortable realization of what it feels like to be an outcast, due to the baring of her most personal thoughts to the entire school. 

 

Harriet's biggest aid in regaining her lost respect is the fact that the two girls who orchestrated her fall from school society are dismissive of everyone but themselves, and even though they create an Anti-Spy Club (aimed solely at alienating Harriet) that go do far as to walk past where Harriet tries to recoup her emotions, staging a mini Anti-Spy parade in a humiliating fashion, Harriet proves that through tenacity, creativity and trying her hardest to earn her friends' trust back, she manages to reveal the girls' snobbery towards the other children.

 

This is no easy task, however, and Harriet is put through the hard, painful work of learning personal responsibility that begins with her rights to write being taken away, when her "spying" behavior is brought to her parents' knowledge and she loses Ole Golly one dramatic evening when Harriet's parents attempt to fire Ole Golly for taking Harriet out past her bedtime to see a movie, and Ole Golly reveals that she has decided that she needs to leave sometime soon, because Harriet has outgrown her need for her to be there.   "But, Ole Golly," one of Harriet's parents finally manages to say, when Ole Golly reveals her plans to leave. "what will we do without you?"

 

Harriet also learns life lessons from the people she spies on, from a man who owns too many cats to a bedridden woman who refuses to leave the house.  Harriet is also introduced to Ole Golly's mentally deficient mother, who is likely to be Harriet's first exposure to a person like her.  All in all, the mood of the book seems to suggest that Harriet is overgoing the emotional and mental processes of becoming a teenager - the comforts of Ole Golly, white cake and living without consequences are over. 

 

I think the most important message in this entire book, however, is the reminder that those who love you may not always be there to plop you back on your bike when you fall off, but in the case of Ole Golly, Harriet has in her ex-Nanny a woman still capable of giving her very good advice that may not be the Disney-sanction type of advice about always being up-front and transparent with others, in that she seems to tell Harriet via a letter to her that the answer to her conundrum is to accept her small victories and when all else fails, in order to protect her personal opinions, she should, on occasion, lie to save other people's feelings.

 

Harriet learns moderation, if only to save her public persona and she adapts to change beautifully. 

 

Harriet is one of my favorite characters of all time, with her acceptance of who she is - she obviously is not intimidated by others' opinion of what a "girl" should look/act like, and she has a passion that she actively works to grow.  I also love her creepy little friend, Janie, who frightens the shit out of her overly-bubbly mother with her... bubbly vials full of what she claims is poison.

 

  This is one intense fricking girl

 

The kids in this book are great.  Yet again, I have to applaud someone for an accurate portrayal of children in literature - their emotional fragility and, unlike John Green's bizarre portrayal of teenagers, Fitzhugh manages to make children who can be quite brilliant but are not uncharacteristically so.  

(show spoiler)

 

 

Harriet is a magnificent little girl, and she is a character beloved by people who value females with a great deal of curiosity and have the courage to be themselves.  I have heard of a woman who did become a spy cited Harriet as her role model when she was a girl - which, I think is really just amazing.

 

I am not surprised that some dumb-asses have seen a wide variety of bullshit reasons to attempt to block children from reading this - oh dear, we couldn't have them reading something that tries to say something meaningful about growing up, providing a different style of growing up, contrary to the Seventh Heaven fuckfaces with their gross, Aryan children, now, could we?   It is an awful mistake to try to keep children from reading any book that they want to - as John Waters once mentioned, if a kid has the tenacity to go to a library to get a copy of Naked Lunch, what right have you to block that kid from reading it? - but this book, in particular, speaks to children in an intimate fashion that is admirable, especially to children whose personality is grown inwardly and not in an outward, socially motivated fashion. 

 

Girls in particular need more Harriets in the public canon, providing an example of a girl who wears the same old clothes when she goes spying and always makes sure to have a flashlight so that she can better explore the world around her.

 

Oh, this came out recently - fuck me, why?

 

 

Please tell me that the plot of this isn't that Harriet has naked pictures of herself floating around the internet...