I considered re-reading Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy last month for the Re-Reading Project, but ran out of time (I ended up re-reading twice as many books in January as I’d originally planned). Reading through my Entertainment Weekly yesterday, as I religiously do, I saw a great book essay by Hillary Busis about Harriet the Spy (as well as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) turning 50 this year.
Busis writes about how influential Harriet was for her, growing up 30 years after the book’s 1960s setting:
…I identified so fully with Harriet–her emotions, fear of change, frustration, and loneliness–that she instantly felt like an old friend. Inspired by her, I even started keeping a journal in which I carefully wrote mean things about my friends. During a fateful fifth-grade camping trip, that choice came back to bite me…hard. (P.S. Katy, Julia, Whitney, Kate–I’m still sorry.)
Despite that episode, Harriet wasn’t a bad influence. My bond with her was so strong precisely because her faults and virtues mirrored my own.
It occurs to me that troublesome female characters like Harriet (and Gilly Hopkins and Sammy Keyes) are especially important for young girls, who so often absorb society’s message that their job is to please others, which usually means not pleasing themselves. They’re not supposed to be nosy, or stubborn, or rambunctious, but they often are these things, or feel these things, and they need heroines who show them that it’s okay to be however they are, to ask questions and accept no one’s answers but the ones they find for themselves.
Have no fear, there will be a Re-Reading post for February–I’m working on it now. And I’ll have a guest post from my sister soon (together, she and I were little girls much like Harriet, Gilly and Sammy and we remain partners in crime today). If you’ve been enjoying theses posts, I hope you’ll consider re-reading an influential book and writing about it, like Maurice has done and Aimee is doing.