It was in 4th grade when I first read Harriet the Spy. If I recall that long ago, my mother encouraged me in picking it out from the Trumpet Book Club or Scholastic Book Fair that I was so lucky to have access to in elementary school. My mom, who wasn’t much of a reader in adulthood, still ensured that I was surrounded by plenty of reading materials. Since it was originally published in 1964, my mom had fond memories of Harriet the Spy as a kid. She felt that it would be beneficial if I created my own.
I remember dragging my copy of Harriet the Spy around as a kid: on road trips, in the bathroom, to school, to the baby-sitter’s, wherever I might have even five minutes to take in a few pages. At that age a nearly 300 page book was slightly intimidating. Even now I don’t take in too many novels much longer. But with Harriet, I just wanted to get as close to her as possible. In 4th and 5th grade I remember being very confused at the new group dynamics that were taking place in the classroom. Cliques began to form, other kids were on the outskirts or beginning puberty and acting in ways I thought at the time were wackadoo. I was beginning to question my Catholic upbringing and was regularly reprimanded for my ponderings in CCD class (Catholic Sunday school held on Tuesday nights). Harriet was also curious about why people did what they do and why they think a certain way. I felt a kinship in questioning life with Harriet. She kept me company even when she was waterlogged (whoops bathtub!) and spine cracked.
Recently, I re-engaged with Harriet with a close read. As we are all worried that our childhood favorites won’t hold up in adulthood (a reason I haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye in over 15 years) I went into my reading with slight trepidation. Would I find Harriet a total uncaring brat? In my brain was a scene from the movie adaptation of Michelle Trachtenburg (pre-Dawn Summers) screeching at the top of her lungs. As soon as I hit the passage where Harriet is ignoring the morning Bible reading at school choosing to write instead, “Ole Golly says there is as many ways to live as there are people on the earth and I shouldn’t go ‘round with blinders but should see every way I can,” I knew I was welcoming Harriet right into my heart all over again. At 35 this is still how I try to live my life. Is that inherent? Was it instilled through my friendship with fictional Harriet? Did she confirm what I had always had in me and I see her as someone to refer to when feeling like I’m sometimes living more as an observer rather than participant of society?
I couldn’t relate to the fact that Harriet had a nanny and lived in an upscale part of New York City, but the connection was there. I wasn’t about to laser off the tattoo I had gotten at age 19 from one of the original illustrations in the book. I had gotten my tattoo of Harriet while going through a trying time in my mental health battle with my anxiety causing disassociation and I still felt secure in that decision to keep her with me. “Is everybody a different person when they are with someone else?” Harriet ponders. It’s only recently I am starting to be able answer these types questions, even then without complete certainty. I am so grateful to have a book to continuously go back to throughout my life and can come out of each reading with even more questions but also more answers than each previous visit.