Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
I recently re-read this when I was visiting my mom’s house, and if you don’t know the book here’s a quick plot summary. Harriet is an eleven-year-old girl who lives in New York City with her father, a television executive, and her mother, who plays a lot of bridge. They have a cook, whom they all call “Cook,” and Harriet has an educated and strict but loving nurse with the peculiar name Ole Golly. Harriet is voraciously curious about other people’s lives and keeps a record of her observations in a series of notebooks because she wants to grow up to be a spy. But when her classmates discover that she’s been spying on them, she has to confront her circumstances with a new maturity and sensitivity.
I must have read this at least a dozen times when I was Harriet’s age, but revisiting it thirty-odd years later with my own experiences of Harriet’s city in my head gave a new richness to the book. Also, when I was a kid, the adults’ behavior in the book made NO sense to me; I used to think it was because the grownups in Harriet’s life were nothing like the ones in my own, but now I think it’s just because adults are just mysterious creatures operating on a whole different, sometimes fucked-up logic. Harriet’s friend Sport’s dad is a writer who works all night, thus requiring Sport to do all the housework, which he occasionally chooses to do wearing an apron. Her other friend, Janie, has a chemistry lab set up in her room, mystifying her mother, who calls her Dr. Caligari and throws up her hands in disgust whenever something explodes. All of their teachers are oddballs, impatient or scattered or dealing with the demise of their own dreams, all of which is sketched out quickly so as not to bore the young adult reader but with enough detail to provide a recognizable portrait for someone with more experience.
I don’t know. As far as book reports go, this post rates a B-. I guess my impressions of Harriet go too deeply to sum up in a couple of paragraphs, and I suspect it’s the same for many other people my age. I recall once an old boyfriend telling me that his mother made him wear purple socks so she could find him if he got lost in a crowd, and my friend was shocked when I told him that what he thought was a vivid personal memory was actually taken from this book (a character named The Boy With The Purple Socks, who was so boring, according to Harriet, that no one bothered to remember his name).
I remember that the sequel, The Long Secret, wherein Harriet goes on summer vacation, is even better.