Monday, February 12, 2018

Children's Classic: Harriet the Spy


Title: Harriet the Spy
Author: Louise Fitzhugh; read by Anne Bobby
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio, 2003. Originally published by Harper & Row, 1964. 298 pages.
Source: Library Digital resources

Publisher's Summary:

Harriet M. Welsch is a spy. In her notebook, she writes down everything she knows about everyone, even her classmates and her best friends. Then Harriet loses track of her notebook, and it ends up in the wrong hands. Before she can stop them, her friends have read the always truthful, sometimes awful things she’s written about each of them. Will Harriet find a way to put her life and her friendships back together?

My Review:  
Somehow I was never tempted to read this as a kid. Since lately I've been going back and picking up some classics I missed, when I saw this available as an audio book download through my library, I decided it was time.

Honestly, I'm not sure I'm glad I bothered. I was more than a little taken aback by Harriet, who has a personality that isn't very appealing, and, in my opinion, doesn't learn much from the disaster. Frankly, Harriet is a bit of a spoiled brat. Really, throwing temper tantrums at age 12?

More disturbing is the way her observations of people play out. She does have a keen ability to see and describe people, but she absolutely lacks empathy. Early on, when this was bothering me, I assumed that the story would create a significant change in her, as she learned to feel more. But even when her friends find her notebook and are deeply hurt (and seriously mad at her), she never seems to feel bad about saying those things (which she sees merely as "true" but which in fact are opinions). All she feels is bad about them finding out. 

In the end, too, she is given advice on how to "fix" the problem, but as far as I can see, it merely turns her to writing observations about other people, locals who aren't in her class at school but who are still human beings she dismisses with various unkind descriptions. It looked for a time as though there would be some evolution of her relationship with Ole Golly (into Harriet seeing her as a human being), but that didn't really seem to go anywhere.

My Recommendation:

If you loved this as a kid, I'd recommend not re-reading. If you haven't read it, I think there are better options. Those prizes it won make me wonder if I'm missing something, so if you have read it recently and can argue for a better opinion of the book, please do!

FTC Disclosure: I checked Harriet the Spy out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 


  1. Too bad that you didn't like this. I never read it either. Some classics may not be that good or the pacing is much slower what's written now. So it may not seem as good in comparison to what we read now.

    1. Yeah. This wasn't so much about the pacing--I am generally good with the slower pace of older fiction. It was more about the characters and the whole story. I just didn't like it.


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