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What is she writing? Wouldn't you like to know!

Harriet the Spy is a 1963 book by Louise Fitzhugh about a girl named Harriet who likes to spy on people. Two sequels were written by Fitzhugh--The Long Secret, published the year after Harriet, and Sport, which was published after Fitzhugh's death. Several other sequels were written afterward by ghost authors. The original was adapted into a movie in 1996 starring Michelle Trachtenberg as Harriet and Rosie O'Donnell as Ole Golly.

Harriet is a precocious eleven-year-old who writes down everything because she wants to be a writer when she grows up. She keeps a composition book with her at all times, writing down her observations and general thoughts that pop into her mind. After school, she goes on her spy route. Every day she slinks around people's homes and places of work, watching them and writing down everything they do. One is a birdcage-craftsman who owns twenty-six cats, one is a rich crazy lady who stays in bed all the time, one is an Italian family that runs a deli, and a few others. She also writes down her observations of her parents, teachers, classmates, her best friends Sport and Janie, and her beloved nanny, Ole Golly.

One thing about Harriet, though: she's extremely secretive about the contents of her notebook. No one knows what she writes in it, and for good reason--very few things she writes in it are flattering. They might be true, but they're uncomfortable truths. Sport is poor and does the cooking and housework for his dad, who is a starving writer. Janie is scary and wants to make explosive chemicals with her chemistry set. Rachel Hennessey, the assistant to the Alpha Bitch, has no father. Harriet's own parents are more concerned with their lives than with their daughter. Harriet writes down everything, not just the nice stuff.

So you can imagine what happens when Harriet's notebook falls into the wrong hands...

Harriet the Spy provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The 1996 movie, which streamlines the story.
  • Alpha Bitch: Marion Hawthorne.
  • Anti-Protagonist Morality: One of the biggest examples in literature that's meant to teach a good lesson.
  • Canon Dis Continuity: The movie is fine, unless you've read the book. Also, there were a few sequels written... by a different author.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: The birdcage maker. He's got 26 cats, and the health department is after him. They get him in the end and take away all his cats. But then at the end of the book, he sneaks in a little kitten... Awwwww.
  • Dance Party Ending: Movie only.
  • Dawson Casting: Actually averted in the movie; Michelle Trachtenberg was the same age as Harriet.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Harriet. Ole Golly at one point even tells her "Don't be snarky."
  • Disappeared Dad: Rachel Hennessey. Also Harriet, in an interesting way. When her father isn't at work, he's unavailable.
  • Double Entendre: When Harriet spies on Ole Golly during her date, her boyfriend takes her to a German restaurant. Harriet knows Ole Golly hates German food, and expects her to complain about it when she asks her about the date. However, when Harriet does so, Ole Golly said it was a wonderful restaurant, and she tried several new types of wurst. Harrier, baffled, wonders if part of being in love is eating a lot of sausages.
  • Eek! a Mouse!: Mrs. Plummer's reaction to finding Harriet in the dumbwaiter.
  • Endangered Souffle: Harriet deliberately stomps the cake that the cook is making.
  • Fair-Weather Friend: Harriet's friends turn against her amazingly quickly once her notebook is read. They learn better by the end of the story.
  • Free-Range Children: In the movie, the children are only 11, yet they wander aimlessly around town with little to no concern from their parents. The book may have been written in the 60's, but since the movie was clearly set in the 90's, it was a bit jarring to see.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Hey it's Dawn Summers as Harriet and Doris Murphy as Ol' Golly.
  • Humiliation Conga: Happens to Harriet.
  • It's Personal: Both from everyone to Harriet and to everyone from Harriet.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Make Way for the Princess: Marion greets her "subjects," especially Harriet, this way.
  • Purely Aesthetic Glasses: Harriet wears them even though she doesn't need to. There's no glass in them, but she thinks they make her look smart.
  • Race Lift: In the movie, Janie is black and the Italian Dei Santis are the Chinese Hong Fats.
  • Revenge: A big part of the story is saying how it actually isn't a great idea, by showing realistic consequences of it.
    • Upon reading Harriet's notebook, her friends form the Spy Catchers Club. Naturally, Harriet spies on them and feels sad because they're having fun without her and because she's the reason they're doing it.
    • Rachel Hennessey pours blue ink all over Harriet. The teacher makes Harriet apologize.
    • Harriet pinches Carrie Andrews. And then Carrie hits Marion.
    • Harriet throws things at Sport.
    • Harriet throws a pencil at Beth Ellen.
    • Harriet puts a frog in Marion's desk. Chaos ensues.
    • Harriet cuts off Laura Peters' hair.
    • Harriet asks Rachel where her father is, and then tells her that he must not love her, since he doesn't live with her.
  • Rich Bitch: Marion Hawthorne, again. Also Harriet in a slightly different way.
  • Secret Diary: And what happens when people read it.
  • Snooping Little Kid: See title.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Harriet eats tomato-and-mayonnaise sandwiches every day for lunch, drinks/eats egg creams at the cafe while on her spy route, and has cake and milk when she gets home from school. Also, Sport eats hard-boiled eggs for lunch and the cat guy has yogurt. (Until he gets his cats taken away. Then he has tuna.)
  • Trailers Always Lie: In the 2010 version some trailer made it look like a romance between Skander and Harriet would happen in the movie. It is hinted at the end, but it isn't the driving force of the movie like the trailers said it would be.
  • Unusual Euphemism: FINK! FINK! FINK!
  • With Friends Like These...: In the book, Harriet's notebook is found by Janie, who reads it out of sheer curiosity and then starts the Harriet hate-in when she doesn't like what she reads (probably that Harriet called her a Mad Scientist). In The Long Secret (the first of the book's true sequels), Harriet takes a very long time to solve the mystery of the notes because her best friend is responsible.
  • You Are a Tree Charlie Brown: Harriet is an onion. At one point she practices rolling around on the floor like an onion should.