This weekend I did a lot of things I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, including covering my paperbacks with contact paper. And in the process of doing this, I got started reading Harriet the Spy, which I haven’t read for ages and ages. What a good book it is! Harriet is an eleven-year-old girl who wants to be a spy, and she goes around spying on people and writing down everything she sees, and trying to figure out grown-ups.
I identified so strongly with Harriet when I was a kid. I once got into huge trouble for writing a mean note to this girl in my class (she was called Jenny also, which may have contributed to my irritation with her), and after my principal fussed at me for an hour and said my note was chilling and made me cry, I got home and my mother said “So what we’ve learned is – never put anything in writing.” A lesson I took much to heart. I completely stopped writing my stories down on paper and took to writing everything on the computer, in documents with long complicated passwords; and when I reread Harriet the Spy not long after, I felt superior to Harriet. Silly, silly Harriet, I remember thinking, putting things in writing when she clearly should not.
One thing Ms. Fitzhugh does terribly well is to convey how confusing adults are. The adults in this book are completely incomprehensible, which is so true about being a kid, that thing of often not having any idea at all what all the grownups are on about. And asking questions was so frustrating because they didn’t understand what you were really asking. That comes through nicely in this book. If you’ve never read it (which hardly seems possible), you should read it. It cemented the nothing-in-writing lesson for me, and as well taught me about Dostoevsky at a very young age. Harriet the Spy. Check it out. The Long Secret is also quite good, but I didn’t like the book about Sport. Whatever it was called.