Last Friday, the library hosted a Secret Spy Spectacular. My favourite spy (by far) is Harriet the Spy, aka Harriet M. Welsch. Harriet is a busy body who lives with her far-too-busy parents and her never-too-busy nanny. When I say “busy body”, I mean “snoop”. Harriet likes nothing more than an afternoon spent spying on the people in her neighbourhood then heading home with a notebook full of observations for a tomato sandwich. I think books are better when the people aren’t perfect. None of the people in Louise Fitzhugh’s books are perfect: not the kids, not the teachers, not the neighbours and definitely not the parents: this is what makes her books so appealing.
Harriet the Spy is the story of a lonely girl who desperately wants to reveal something – something disturbing or astonishing or radical, just something – to break the façade of her boring and controlled life. Like lots of the more remarkable and angry characters in books, Harriet does not abide by phoneys and she is (unfortunately) not afraid to hurt feelings (including her own) if it means her life becomes more interesting, raw and real.
Lots of people have read Harriet the Spy and loved it, but not so many know about the two follow up books. Harriet returns in The Long Secret, which is a wonderful summer holiday story. The long Secret begins with a nasty (but sort-of funny) secret note and Harriet’s burning desire to find out who sent it. She enlists her mousy friend Beth Allen to reluctantly help her, and they have lots of odd encounters along the way. I like the peculiar characters – like the family who are trying to get rich making toe medicine (EW), and Bunny (COOL NAME) the pyjama-wearing piano player. The Long Secret is two books in one really: on one hand it is a riveting mystery that involves a funny holiday township, but on the other hand it is a story about feeling left out and friendship and growing up and stuff. (That leaves no hands to hold biscuits, but it’s a summer book so maybe you could just slurp a milkshake instead?).
Harriet only plays a guest role in the third book which is set back in New York. Sport focuses on Harriet’s friend Simon who is nicknamed Sport, and lives with his really nice but really hopeless Dad. There is not so much mystery in this one, but a lot of action. Poor Sport is really put through the wringer as his evil mother (no, not evil stepmother – just plain old evil mother) tries to gain custody of him so she can get her greedy mitts on his inheritance. This book is intense! Heaps of yelling and cussing and hiding and running and worrying and laughing. (Lots of laughing from me actually, especially when Sport and his friends get their own back against rich ladies and cops -ha-ha).
I would strongly recommend these books to anyone who is sick of children’s stories that are all sweet and fluffy and nice. Louise Fitzhugh died at a young age and it’s a real shame because she is one of the few authors that seems to “get” kids. She doesn’t write about kids the way adults like to see kids: boring, stupid and polite – she writes about kids the way kids are: interesting, thoughtful and really cool.