Details: (c) 1964 Louise Fitzhugh; Pub Lions 1975; ISBN 0-00-671002-6
Verdict: Harriet the spy is a sophisticated YA novel.
Reasons for reading it: There was a bit of discussion about it chez sartorias and I wanted to remind myself how the book went and reread it as an adult.
How it came into my hands: I borrowed the copy my parents have from when we were kids.
As a child, I found Harriet the spy extremely uncomfortable, and I could never work out why, so I kept rereading it to try to understand what was so horrible about it, but all I got was a sense of wrongness. As an adult, I think I can see what the problem was: Fitzhugh really captures the sense of being a child and not really understanding what is going on around you. That confusion about how the world works was something I really hated as a child, and it isn't something you see in most children's books, because the narration usually explains everything necessary at whatever the author judges to be a child's level. To my mind Harriet seems a little immature for eleven, but of course different kids mature at different rates. The extent to which the viewpoint is inside Harriet's head is very impressive.
It's a touching story which never drops the tension. I really felt Janie's betrayal on a visceral level, and Harriet's feelings are excellently portrayed even though she doesn't have the sophistication to describe them very well. The narrative manages to evoke sympathy the other characters in the reader, even though Harriet herself doesn't always understnad what makes them tick. Both Mrs Welsch and Ole Golly seem a little too perfect, but that's a minor criticism.
The people who were claiming that there is a queer subtext have been reading too much slash; Harriet is just starting to be curious about sexuality but doesn't yet recognize specific desires herself. There's absolutely nothing in the text to support the idea that she might have lesbian inclinations. Still, I'm not sorry that the debate about Harriet's orientation led me to reread the book.