Back in July of last year, I posted about rereading Harriet the Spy. I briefly touched on my mixed feelings about the book, saying:
“I hated the end of it passionately, and reading it again this time, I kind of agree with my six year old self. I love Harriet and her honesty. She’s a little confused girl with little to no parental guidance, who is just trying to figure out the world around her. Ultimately she gets caught and punished for thinking the same things that all her friends are thinking, and that’s what I hated and still kind of hate.”
I bring this up, because I just finished Fleur de Leigh’s Life of Crime by Diane Leslie, a book that very much reminds me of ol’ Harriet. Like Harriet, Fleur grows up in a home where parents are scarce, and nannies are prevalent. But where Harriet learns about human nature by spying, Fleur’s lessons come fast and furious in her very own home. Fleur grows up in 1950’s Hollywood, and as nannies and relatives come and go, 10 year old Fleur sees the seedier side of life. While Harriet’s parents are simply hands off, Fleur’s are actively dismissive and unthinkingly cruel– Fleur is simply a possession, and any opinion or action of hers that disagrees with theirs is a nuisance and can’t be tolerated. Any semblance of stability is dashed as her prized possessions are plundered any time her parents feel the need to make donations for tax write offs, and she’s not even allowed to sit on her own bed, as she might damage the antique bedspread that she should feel “honored” to have in her room. Nannies that come into the home are treated with the same disdain and either get trampled on and quit, or are themselves a bit off in the head and end up being fired. Fleur’s only friend is the gardener, and once her parents find that out then it’s off to a therapist who asks intrusive and embarrassing questions about the nature of their relationship. By the end of the book Fleur ultimately learns to be more secure in her place in the world, but she mostly learns that the world is dangerous, people will screw you over, and the ones you love will almost always leave you.
The writing of the book is skillful, as it captures the tone and perspective of a precocious and world-weary ten year old. It’s just so sad. It’s like something that Lemony Snicket would write, but not witty, and based in a reality that is just depressing. Maybe I’m taking it and Harriet too seriously, but I just feel sorry for these girls, so smart, so sweet, and so neglected. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good book, I just won’t be rereading it any time soon.
Using neglect as a segue: it was pointed out to me after my previous post that I had similarly abandoned poor Wesley Stace’s Misfortune, a book which I think wins the award for “book I’ve cast aside unopened the greatest number of times in favor of something else”. As I stated previously, this has nothing to do with the book itself, which I fully intended to crack open each of those times, until something shiny caught my attention. So, now, I aim to rectify this sad situation. I started the book this evening, and am quite enjoying it, even though some sick compulsion is pulling at me to just read Howl’s Moving Castle really quickly and then get back to Misfortune. But I will neglect it no longer!
PS. An afterthought: Fleur de Leigh’s Life of Crime, while similar to Harriet the Spy, is not appropriate for the same age group. Who knows if any one who reads this is in the position to buy it for a Harriet the Spy loving kid, but be warned, you’ll be explaining way more than you’ll probably want to.
Current total: 62
Just Finished: Fleur de Leigh’s Life of Crime by Diane Leslie
Currently Reading: Misfortune by Wesley Stace