7/15/12 ** I'm still trying to figure out how to rate this book. Perhaps by the time I'm done typing here, I'll have "written my way into" the rating.
First of all, let me say that I'm having a difficult time believing that I'd never read this classic before - it's two years older than I am. Lots of people are familiar with the plot: Harriet writes down everything she observes and her opinions about the people around her. She has a spy route that she walks everyday after school and has found ways to peer into people's homes and businesses through alley-windows, skylights, and even someone's old dumbwaiter. Harriet shows keen insight into people, but sometimes jumps to conclusions. She also asks lots of good questions about human nature. Over the course of the novel, she shows lots of growth through some trying life events: 1) Her nanny (called a nurse) leaves suddenly, 2) her friends read her notebook and organize for revenge, and 3) her parents don't really know her.
Perhaps my biggest quibble with this book is that I'm not sure how well modern kids (at least the kids I know) will relate to Harriet. She's wealthy (maid, cook, nanny), goes to a private school in Manhattan, and has life experiences that reflect this reality. Also, the book drags a bit in the middle. I suppose like so much literary fiction, this is driven by the characters. Current readers might learn something about others' experiences by reading about Harriet's life, and they can also learn about their own emotions by reading about how Harriet copes when the people around her are mean or don't understand her.
I've written my way into a 5 star rating. I suppose I should rate a book on its own merits, rather than on the basis of my current context. Also, perhaps some of my kids will surprise me and enjoy Harriet's quirky nature. I should let them make that choice.