Violence against one’s children, I feel, is never the answer, but Harriet the Spy had me rethinking that stance. I don’t have it in me to wail on an adult, let alone a child; however, if I were to father a child like Harriet, I would consider putting her up for adoption because a) I couldn’t be trusted not to take the belt to her and b) I have clearly failed as a parent and so she’d be better served being raised by someone else more qualified. She makes that red-headed demon from the Problem Child movies seem like a parent’s dream (think Roald Dahl’s Matilda) by comparison.
Alright, I might be overstating my point a wee bit, but Harriet was the literary equivalent of that little girl who spent what must’ve been something like half of my nine hour shift the other day at Walmart letting loose uninterrupted ear-piercing screams that could be heard from one end of the store to the other. She is a hateful, spiteful hell spawn incapable of learning the error of her ways, largely due to having mostly absent parents who foist her off on a therapist the second things get out of hand.
Worse yet, she gets away with it, and is even, in a way, rewarded for it. She turns her entire class against her by being an equal-opportunity offender in her “spy notebook,” which is code for “where I belittle and insult every last person I come into contact with,” and her teacher’s solution is to give her run of the school paper, wherein she earns her redemption through doing precisely what got her into trouble in the first place! She gets back into good graces with her classmates because, instead of spewing hate directed at them, she’s now shifted her aim entirely to unsuspecting strangers that no one besides her knows anything about.
Did I mention her friends, who she completely betrayed, don’t even get a formal apology, yet forgive her anyway? Or that the only semi-present adult in her life, besides the fucking cook (yeah, she’s not just a brat, she’s a rich brat), Ole Golly, her one-time nanny, told her the way out of her predicament was to lie!? Oh, but not until she’d made clear that she didn’t miss Harriet. That sure cheered Harriet up. No, I’m being serious. So did becoming as hurtful with her actions as she’d been with her words. Let’s see, she tripped one kid, lopped a chunk of hair off another, threw a pencil at the head of yet another, and played cruel head games with another.
At the same time as she’s doing all this, the one thing she isn’t doing is her schoolwork, which goes completely neglected in favor of scribbling away in her notebook. Not to worry, though. You won’t ever get properly disciplined for any of this; the worst they’ll do is not allow you to have your notebook with you during school hours. So, really, what reason is she given to stop her petulant ways? None whatsoever, and this is the message Harriet the Spy is sending to little kids, that they can perpetually misbehave without any real repercussions?
No child of mine will ever be allowed to read such nonsense, nor will I hesitate to go all Harriet on Harriet the Spy anytime it’s mentioned in conversation, especially if someone speaks fondly of it. You don’t know how much willpower I’ve had to exercise to not angrily correct each and every positive review over on Goodreads, of which there are many. Maybe one out of every couple dozen reviews doesn’t speak of it in glowing terms, and that pains me. Literally, I think my hate for this book actually worked me up into this headache of mine. Normally I’m all for open discussion, but in this case I simply cannot, and will not, be so level-headed. I’d sooner let a young, impressionable mind read a book the likes of Darkly Dreaming Dexter than I would Harriet the Spy, because at least it has some sense of right and wrong. The only people I would recommend read it are adults who still harbor fond memories for it. I beg of you, read it again and see just how wrong you were.