An odd book really. I’m surprised I never encountered Harriet as a kid. I know I would have loved it. It was just the kind of thing I read back then.
This is a book that operates on two levels really.
On one hand it’s just what the dust jacket says – the story of a curious and precocious kid who likes to write what she observes. I think kids will like the way Harriet isn’t all sweetness and light. Her thoughts can really be quite mean, but the honesty rings true and is really refreshing. I think modern kids will also enjoy the rather ‘exotic’ 1960s Upper East Side setting. And finally, they will also appreciate the drama that unfolds when Harriet’s journal is discovered by her classmates.
On the other hand it’s really a fairly devastating book. The real tragedy doesn’t occur when Harriet loses her friends. It occurs when her beloved and longtime caretaker, Ole Golly, abruptly quits and moves away to Montreal. Harriet is too young to sort through her feelings of grief and frustration at being left behind with only a grumpy cook and distracted parents for companions. She’s also too young to understand the import of her spying behavior and some of the things she witnesses along the way.
All of the above will likely be missed by young readers, but it lends the book depth and feeling that I don’t think it would have otherwise. But I can also see why this doesn’t get universally glowing reviews. It really is nothing like any other children’s book I’ve ever encountered. Harriet doesn’t seem to have learned all that much by the end of the book, but I personally think that’s a lot of the charm. This book is less about Harriet learning a VERY IMPORTANT LESSON and more about how she copes with and comes out the other side of two traumatic childhood experiences.