I was a bit disappointed by Harriet the Spy. Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel had been recommended to me, and although I didn’t exactly rush to read it, I fully expected it to be something it wasn’t.
To begin with I quite liked it, but grew to actively dislike Harriet herself. I’m unsure as to whether she’s not meant to be likeable, or if she’s more of a Pippi Longstocking girl that the reader is meant to admire because she’s so different. I believe Harriet the Spy was suggested as an aspie book, and it is, I suppose. Harriet’s problems in relating to her school friends suggests a lack of theory of mind. (With my aspie hat on, I also noticed a couple of ‘mistakes,’ like Harriet going to school on a Sunday.)
It’s a rather charming period piece, set in New York over fifty years ago. It’s the kind of New York it’d be nice to be able to see for yourself, and almost impossible to imagine today.
You have to admire [some of] Harriet’s observational skills. She creeps round the neighbourhood collecting data on people in her notebook, to which she is permanently attached. She sees all these things, but she fails to understand what they mean, what makes people tick. Harriet also fails to allow others to be different. It’s all about her and her ways.
Her nanny is sacked, and everything goes wrong. Her teachers ‘don’t understand her’ and her friends and non-friends alike turn on her. In a way, what this really is is a book by Rebecca Stead, turned on its head. I.e. it’s the plot as seen by the ‘bad’ child, rather than the usual point of view.
And then, everything is ‘fine’ again, which is fine by me, but I didn’t admire the ways it was made fine.
(I have used a book cover image different to the one on my copy, because among other things I dislike is ‘the film/television’ book cover. Especially when it seems to bear little relation to the story.)