Review: “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the SpyHarriet the Spy (Harriet the Spy #1) by Louise Fitzhugh

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Meet Harriet M. Welsch — one of the most unforgettable, funniest characters in children’s literature. Harriet is a girl with only one ambition in life: to be a spy. She works hard at it — filling her secret notebook with observations about her parents, friends, and neighbors. But when her classmates find her notebook and read her mean comments about them, Harriet finds herself shunned by everyone. How can she put her spying talents to good use and make her friends like her again?

3 stars

So maybe I’m a sap. Maybe I’m a purist. Maybe I want to believe that children’s literature is meant to teach the child reading it something. I don’t know. What I do know is that Harriet the Spy was interesting, cute in parts and rather funny other times–but that the ending was one of the least satisfying things I’ve read in a while.

On the outset, Harriet seemed like an awesome character to me. Her hobby of spying was hilarious and quirky, and she was surprisingly intelligent yet naive about what she wrote down in her notebook. She wasn’t presented as the perfect child, but rather as the wild hooligan that her parents don’t know what to do with. Despite how much she tries to understand, her social skills leave something to be desired, but in the beginning I found that endearing and realistic.

As the story goes on, however, Harriet’s character gets pretty annoying. She is almost always screaming and frustrating the adults around her. Again, despite the intelligent thoughts she writes in her notebook, she continues to act younger than her age throughout. She just gets more and more petulant. After a while, her character isn’t exactly fun to read about anymore.

This is not to say, however, that Harriet doesn’t have her moments. Her interactions with her peers and the adults around her sometimes rang so true I remember thinking or acting the same way. I also temper her attitude with the obvious fact that her parents aren’t as loving as they should be and she’s basically on her own to figure out how to go about life. She’s trying so hard to fit into life around her and find a place where she belongs, and I can respect that. That’s what really made the book for me.

In the end, though, her attempt to understand is her undoing. Her friends get a hold of her notebook and read all the not-so-nice-if-honest stuff that she’s written about them. What happens next, I thought, should have been a lesson about friendship and telling the truth and apologizing to those you’ve judged too harshly. Quite frankly, that isn’t what I took away from it. I don’t want to spell out the ending for those of you who haven’t read it, but I found the end of the novel to be abrupt and decidedly unsatisfying in how Harriet deals with her situation. After dealing with her petulant attitude all book, I was looking for more payoff then I got.

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One thought on “Review: “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh

  1. Harriet the Spy was one of my favorite books to read when I was in elementary school. I’m not sure I could go back and read it now. I’d like to think that younger kids might appreciate the ‘easy’ ending for Harriet. They’re as quick to forgive at that age as they are to forget what they did wrong.

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