I know I might make some enemies with this review, but I have to tell it like I see it. Or, in this case, read it.
I was told this was a classic.
I’m inclined to like older books, and I had seen Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh on multiple book lists.
I will not join in recommending it.
While this book is undoubtedly well written and Harriet is a strong and sympathetic character, I can’t help but wanting to slap her half of the time. We listened to Harriet the Spy as an audio book. The narrator was excellent, and frankly that is the only thing that kept me going to the end (and my hope that Harriet would learn some redeeming lesson about life and friendship).
Harriet longs to by a Spy. She spies on friends and neighbors and writes everything in her journal. Her commentary is cruel and critical. Even about her best friends. Unsurprisingly, her friends find her journal, read her hurtful words, and shun her. Finally, Harriet decides to lie an apology to her friends so she won’t be so alone.
What really irks me is that she never learns her lesson! She never really grows as a character, at least, not the way she needs to.
Here are the main issues I had with Harriet the Spy:
1) She curses at her parents. She yells at her parents (twice), “I’ll be damned if I go to dance class!” Harriet has a strange and distant relationship with her parents that frankly disturbs me for a book aimed at elementary schoolers. She was raised by a nanny (Ole Golly), who leaves about midway through the book. That’s when Harriet begins to fall apart.
2) Harriet writes nasty things about people in her journals and thinks (almost only) mean thoughts about everyone. Including her best friends. And she never sees anything wrong with it! Even in the end! I’ve seen reviews that praise Harriet’s character growth in learning how to lie to spare other people’s feelings. Honestly, I have a problem with the idea that it is ok, even good, for Harriet to nurse her horrible ideas of people. There is an ugliness in her heart that is never dealt with. In the end, she lies not to spare the feelings of others, but so that she won’t have to be alone.
3) Relationships aren’t that simple. Harriet apologises to her friends (which is a lie since she is not sorry nor does she intend to change). The book ends with her friends accepting her again. But all of us who have hurt someone or been hurt before know that relationships are not that simple. If the author wants to be raw and honest about human nature (as she is about Harriet), she should tell this truth as well to her young readers. People may forgive you, but they won’t forget, and it will never be the same.
I would have liked this book if Harriet could have come to some self-realization that she was the problem. Her urge to observe and write wasn’t bad, but her selfish disregard of other people and their feelings is the tragedy of this book.
Is Harriet the Spy a classic? Not in my opinion.
Do you have a different opinion of this book? Is there a “classic” book you just can’t stand? I’d love to hear about it!