Hayes's Reviews > Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
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Mar 09, 10

bookshelves: read-in-2010, favorites, read-prior-to-2009
Read in February, 2010, read count: 2

I loved this book as a kid. I may just have to read it again!!

And read it again I did! I grew up in Harriet's neighborhood (almost) and the descriptions of the New York of my childhood almost broke my heart.

Harriet is a cranky adolescent, living in a cushy New York world that was already changing when I was young and going to "The Gregory School", which was really The Chapin School, located on East End Avenue, across the street from Carl Schurz Park.

The typical "brownstones" (single family, 3 and 4-storey houses) have mostly disappeared on the East Side of New York. They were replaced by enormous glass apartment towers, and modern readers of Harriet the Spy will find it difficult to understand how Harriet was able to roam around and peer into windows and skylights with such ease.

At the time the story was written, the mid 1960s, much of the area had already been razed leaving rows of brownstones running down one side of the city blocks, and open lots behind, exposing private gardens and leaving fire escapes accessible to a young spy. Most of the brownstones that remain are no longer single-family dwellings, but have been turned into apartments.*

Harriet lives with her parents, who almost never appear in the story. Mother is always lunching or playing bridge, and Father is at work; in the evenings they are always at parties. Harriet is left to her own devices, lovingly guided by the world's best nanny, Ole Golly. (I never really liked Mary Poppins.) Harriet's inquiring mind leads her to spy on everyone, and to write her impressions in her notebook. Her impressions are brutally honest, too honest, but Harriet is following the tradition of New York families of that time, women-folk are catty and brutal, even at the age of 12, but not in public.

I think Harriet the Spy is/was so successful because it was the antithesis to stories like The Bobbsey Twins (which my mother would not allow in the house). Harriet was a modern girl in the making. She wanted a career, she didn't want to play bridge, and she didn't want to be a member of exclusive social clubs. She was like my mother (except for the bridge playing part; my mother adored bridge and taught me to play at an early age).

It's a strange book, and Harriet is a strange girl, not very likable really, but what girl is likable at that age? Harriet at least does not want to change herself just to be likable, nor will she give up on her friends just because they are "Not Our Kind".

I'm so glad I re-read this.

* I include this clip from the film The World of Henry Orient: A Novel for more "local color". The film came out the same year as Harriet, 1964.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVUPxR...

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p. 27
Harriet’s school was called The Gregory School, having been founded by a Miss Eleanore Gregory around the turn of the century. It was on East End Avenue, a few blocks from Harriet’s house and across the street from Carl Schurz Park.
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Reading Progress

02/18/2010 page 50
16.67% "Takes place in NYC and Harriet goes to a school very much like the one I attended... this is so much fun!"
02/18/2010 page 50
16.67% "Harriet lives and "works" and goes to school in NYC... this is so much fun."

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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Daisy Yay, me too.


Hayes Daisy wrote: "Yay, me too."

Did you go to "The Gregory School" by any chance?


Daisy I went to a school in NY called Hewitt from Kindergarden to 5th grade.


message 4: by Hayes (last edited Feb 21, 2010 11:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hayes Aah! I had to wear that blue-green uniform tunic in the picture for years... torture. Bloomers too!


Daisy We had a uniform too but I didn't mind wearing it.


Leah Thanks for this great peek into the real world of Harriet. I didn't grow up in New York, so the whole landscape of the book has an unreal quality to me. Thanks for grounding it a bit. That was very helpful!


Michelle This review is wonderful! I grew up in New York in the 90s, and by that point Harriet's world had completely changed. This book was almost like seeing what I knew through a fun house mirror, and I loved it!


Ivan I'm on Google looking at a lovely group of pictures of Carl Schurz Park. Getting a feel for where Harriet runs around. Nice photos of Gracie Mansion. I'm having a great time reading this.


Hayes Gee... I missed all of your messages because I had the wrong thing clicked.

Thanks for your nice comments everyone.


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