Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh – Book Review *spoiler alert*

Written in  1964 (so is a spoiler alert really required?), this is considered a classic of children’s literature. It follows Harriet, an eleven-year-old who believes she is a spy and so spends her time running around town watching people and writing what they do, along with her extremely judgemental commentary, in notebooks. Her parents are rarely home, socialising or doing whatever it is that wealthy people do, and so she looked after by her nanny, Ole Golly, until Old Golly gets engaged and leaves. Then the kids at school find the book and read the horrible things she’s written, and she has to figure out how to deal with it. Eventually, her school help her by getting her to write a page in the newsletter where she… prints gossip about local characters… because doing the same behaviour is really going to teach her a lesson?

Ok, I know I’m several decades too old for this book, but I don’t get it. Harriet is an annoying, spoilt brat who has no concept of other people’s feelings. This in itself is understandable because she’s just a kid, and kids need to learn. But there are no adults in her life who are helping. Her parents are too busy to pay much attention, her nanny gives her terrible advice until she leaves (although I love that she uses regular literary quotes with Harriet, which also passes this on to the readers), and the school seems to be doing nothing at all, even when she’s not doing any school work. And then encouraging her to do the same thing that hurt all her friends and classmates feelings… including writing some very slanderous stuff about her classmates’ parents… and that was ok? I just don’t get it.

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