Harriet the Spy

4 Oct

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One of the few book blogs I follow, The Midnight Garden, chooses one classic Middle Grade/Young Adult book a month to read and then discuss. I’ve read a few lovely books with them so far this year: THE LUCKIEST GIRL (by Beverly Cleary) and A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (by Betty Smith), but September’s book (HARRIET THE SPY) seriously takes the cake.

HARRIET THE SPY is a book I could have sworn I’d read when I was younger, but upon re-reading, realized I didn’t remember *anything* in it–so maybe I never actually read it. Regardless, I was totally charmed by the second page, and proceeded to sticky-note every other page for about 100 pages or so because it was just that good.

The quote on page 2 that I loved:

Harriet is a CHARACTER. She’s precocious, clearly intelligent, a little socially awkward, and brutally honest, both with herself (in her spy notebook — in all caps) and others. There’s a lot of discussion about how she’s not a “nice” girl but let’s be real–girls aren’t nice! Or at least, most kids aren’t when they’re not pretending to say or do the right thing.

This isn’t a recap by any means, but a place for me to drop all my favorite quotes… and to ruminate on the parts that stood out to me. Like, how Harriet was so, so attached to Ole Golly, her nurse (aka nanny), and how Ole Golly knew her better than her parents did, always saying (or not saying) the right thing to make Harriet feel heard, loved, or comforted. I love the relationship as a reader, but as a (Lord willing) one-day parent, it makes me all the more uneasy with the idea of having full-time childcare… I want to be the one who knows my kid best, who knows what to say to get them to take dancing lessons, who can read their moods, and who can take away their flashlight when they try to read under the covers. I get that in some families it’s not an option (because both parents need to work) but in the case of Harriet’s family (and many others)–it’s not necessary! <end soapbox>

Without further adieu–some of my favorite quotes. Which, ironically enough, have very little overlap with the most popular quotes on Goodreads.

  • “Then Harriet did what she always did when she was supposed to be asleep. She got out her flashlight, put the book she was currently reading under the covers, and read happily until Ole Golly came in and took the flashlight away as she did every night.” (25) – I wonder if I had read this as a kid… and then proceeded to do it every night!
  • Harriet to the cook: “Ole Golly says find out everything you can cause life is hard enough even if you know a lot” (37)
  • Harriet to the cook: “I do not go out to PLAY, I go out to WORK!” (39) – I love how seriously she takes herself!
  • Sport to Harriet, about his dad: “Writers don’t care what they eat. They just care what you think of them” (49)
  • “’I hate money,’ Harriet said.
    ‘Well, you’d jolly well like it if you didn’t have any,’ Sport said arrogantly. Harriet considered this. It was true. She’d never had to think about it.” (51)
  • “I GUESS IT’S NOT MONEY THAT MAKES PEOPLE DULL. THERE IS A LOT I DON’T KNOW ABOUT THIS THING OF BEING DULL. I BETTER FIND OUT BECAUSE I MIGHT BE IT.” (57) – this made me chuckle
  • Harriet and Ole Golly: “’What’s a high-pressure job?’ ‘It means he’s not allowed to do exactly what he wants with the job, and what he is allowed to do he isn’t given enough time to do it in.’” (62) – SUCH a good, timeless, simple explanation of this. Crazy how the idea of a high-pressure job applied then, and applies now.
  • “I’M GLAD I’M NOT PERFECT–I’D BE BORED TO DEATH.” (68)
  • Harriet’s parents: “’Boy, that Miss Golly is magic, sheer magic. I wonder where we’d be without her?’” (88)
  • “LIFE IS A GREAT MYSTERY. IS EVERYBODY A DIFFERENT PERSON WHEN THEY ARE WITH SOMEBODY ELSE? OLE GOLLY HAS NEVER BEEN THIS WAY. I WONDER IF PEOPLE ACT LIKE THIS WHEN THEY GET MARRIED? HOW COULD SHE GET MARRIED? WOULD MR. WALDENSTEIN COME TO LIVE WITH US THEN? THEY COULD PUT THEIR CHILD IN MY ROOM IF THEY WANTED TO. I WOULDN’T MIND. I DON’T THINK. UNLESS IT WAS A VERY NOSY CHILD WHO TRIED TO READ MY NOTEBOOKS. THEN I WOULD SMASH IT.” (97) – another laugh out loud moment. Oh Harriet. I love the strange progression of her thoughts.
  • Ole Golly to Harriet: “Tears won’t bring me back. Remember that. Tears never bring anything back. Life is a struggle and a good spy gets in there and fights. Remember that. No nonsense.” (132)
  • “The customers stood around like frozen food.” (160) – For some reason, I liked this metaphor/use of imagery a lot.
  • “SHE ALWAYS SAID THAT PEOPLE WHO TRY TO CONTROL PEOPLE AND CHANGE PEOPLES’ HABITS ARE THE ONES THAT MAKE ALL THE TROUBLE. IF YOU DON’T LIKE SOMEBODY, WALK AWAY, SHE SAID, BUT DON’T TRY AND MAKE THEM LIKE YOU.” (226) – Ole Golly is the smartest woman I’ve ever known. And I’m guilty of this so often.
  • Harriet and her mother: “’What do you do?’ ‘A lot of unseen, unappreciated things’” (233)  – The plight of the SAHM

If you read it, let me know! Would love to chat about it more.

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