Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
The most famous sleuth of all!

It's a strange feeling when you read a book, knowing you'll be the last to read it. It's a bit melancholy, and sad. After it's been through so much it's reached the end of the road. 

This copy of Harriet the Spy was removed from the library of P.A. Walsh School Library in Morgan Hill due to Liquid Damage on 1-5-05. The post it note is still inside noting such, with the library card of it's oldest readers still inside. The earliest stamp is November 3, 1996. The last, January 27, 2000. What happened between 2000 and 2005 to cause the liquid damage? Even sadder--why did no one read the book within those five years? Lacey McGee checked the book out three times in in 1997, as did Karissa in 1999.

The "liquid damage" is obviously not water, the dark stain spread across the bottom of the book. The spine is cracked with pages taped back in and straining to fall apart, the yellow discoloration of the pages creeping towards a hostile takeover of every page. Printed in September 1984, this nearly 30 year old book has finally reached the end of the road. It was an honor to read it.

There are many books I don't recall reading from my childhood--either I never did, or else the memory of it has disappeared somewhere in the years of growing up. I would be surprised to learn I never read it, though, because it feels like a book I would have loved when I was younger. (Note: there are spoilers because the book is 30 years old and as an adult reading a middle grade novel, there are a couple of things I wanted to discuss.)

I've always had a penchant for writing everything down. I've always kept a journal, written letters, short stories, or enjoyed simply writing an essay for homework. As long as I wrote, I was happy. Harriet M. Welsch, the spy herself, constantly kept a notebook with her, scribbling down thoughts and events. Some of her observations about her classmates and those around her are not very kind, however, I felt for Harriet when her notebook fell into the hands of the wrong party. 

Harriet might not have written nice things about people, but it was her private notebook, her private thoughts, and no one seemed to respect that it was invading her privacy by stealing and reading the contents. It was a bit frustrating how disconnected her parents were throughout the book, even when her classmates retaliated and caused her to literally go into a depression.

The back of the book says Harriet responds "in a hilarious way," however, I can't say any of the book was funny. I think the quote on the back from the Chicago Tribune says it best; "A brilliantly written, unsparingly realistic story, a superb portrait of an extraordinary child..." 

The story itself is raw and frustrating, with frustrated reactions from Harriet, her classmates and her parents, all without explaining why Harriet's words hurt her school friends and why what they did in turn was wrong as well. I did feel, however, the miscommunication and avoidance of dealing with the situation head-on came across very well.

The book may be meant for middle-grade, but I think even adults can understand everyone's reactions to the notebook and their struggle to deal with the decisions that were made, especially since there were a couple of problems that went unaddressed. Someone should have sat down with Harriet to explain why her words hurt, even if they were private, instead of having that come across from her classmates through retaliation notes passed around the classroom. Harriet clearly did not learn anything from this because she continues to write mean things, not just in her notebook but publicly towards the end of the book.

Secondly, someone should have explained to the rest of the children why it was wrong to invade someone's privacy and to read someone's private thoughts. Even if those thoughts are not nice, through the conversations overheard you come to find the other children have mean thoughts about their classmates with no consequences for their judgements. Furthermore, they should have been taught to respect privacy, just as they themselves would be offended if their own privacy was invaded.

All in all, I enjoyed the book as a quick read. The writing style was enjoyable, Harriet herself was loveable despite her nosiness, and I loved Harriet's insatiable need to write everything down because I have the same drive.

And how nifty that my best friend shares the same last name as the author!

Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy
Harriet the Spy


  1. Of course, my last name is the same :)



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