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Harriet the Spy #2

The Long Secret

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Harriet the Spy refuses to become ruffled when an unidentified person starts leaving disturbing notes all over the quiet little beach town of Water Mill. She’s determined to discover the author of the notes. And she drags her friend, mousy Beth Ellen, into all kinds of odd and embarrassing situations in her efforts to reveal the culprit. Observing in her own special, caustic way with her ever-present notebook, Harriet the Spy is on the case. But will she be ready to face the truth when she finds it?

Praise for Harriet the Spy® and Her Friends
Harriet the Spy ®

“Harriet is . . . wholly relatable whether you’re eleven or several times that age.”— EW.com
Harriet Spies Again
By Louise Fitzhugh and Helen Ericson
Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Novel

“Ericson has perfectly captured the voice and pacing of Fitzhugh’s original novel in a seamless rendering of a fresh, enjoyable story for today’s readers.” — School Library Journal

Harriet the Spy, Double Agent
By Louise Fitzhugh and Maya Gold

“Harriet the Spy is back, and Gold does a credible job of maintaining the special character and her crusty charm.” — Booklist

The Long Secret

[ STAR ] “Written with subtlety, compassion, and [Louise Fitzhugh’s] remarkable ability to see inside the minds of children.” — School Library Journal, Starred

[ STAR ] “A worthy successor to Harriet the Spy —and that is high tribute.” — Booklist, Starred

288 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1965

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About the author

Louise Fitzhugh

18 books374 followers
Born in Memphis, Tennessee. She attended Miss Hutchison's School and three different universities, without obtaining a degree. According to her obituary in the New York Times, Fitzhugh graduated from Barnard College in 1950. She lived most of her adult life in New York City and had houses in both Long Island and Bridgewater, Connecticut.

She was married briefly to Ed Thompson, whom she dated in high school. After high school, she primarily dated women.

Fitzhugh was the illustrator of the 1961 children's book Suzuki Beane, a parody of Eloise; while Eloise lived in the Plaza, Suzuki was the daughter of beatnik parents and slept on a mattress on the floor of a Bleecker Street pad in Greenwich Village. Fitzhugh worked closely with author Sandra Scoppettone to produce Suzuki Beane, which incorporated typewriter font and line drawings in an original way. Although a parody of both Eloise and beatnik conceit, the book sprang to life as a genuine work of literature. Today, it is a much sought-after book on used-book websites.

Fitzhugh's best-known book was Harriet the Spy, published in 1964 to some controversy since so many characters were far from admirable. It has since become a classic. As her New York Times' obituary, published November 19, 1974, states: "The book helped introduce a new realism to children's fiction and has been widely imitated". Harriet is the daughter of affluent New Yorkers who leave her in the care of her nanny, Ole Golly, in their Manhattan townhouse. Hardly the feminine girl heroine typical of the early 1960s, Harriet is a writer who notes everything about everybody in her world in a notebook which ultimately falls into the wrong hands. Ole Golly gives Harriet the unlikely but practical advice that: "Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth". By and large, Harriet the Spy was well-received -- it was awarded a New York Times Outstanding Book Award in 1964 -- and has sold 4 million copies since publication. Two characters from the book, Beth Ellen and Sport, were featured in two of Fitzhugh's later books, The Long Secret and Sport. The Long Secret deals fairly honestly with female puberty; the main characters are pre-teen girls who discuss how their changing bodies feel.

Fitzhugh illustrated many of her books and had works exhibited in Banfer Gallery, New York, in 1963, among many other galleries.

She died in 1974 of a brain aneurysm. Her obituary was published in the New York Times.

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731 (25%)
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117 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 176 reviews
Profile Image for Colleen Wainwright.
244 reviews50 followers
December 24, 2011
I enjoyed every bit of Harriet the Spy as a girl, and, while it made me anxious to read (because you knew she was going to get caught!), re-read it many times.

But The Long Secret is the book I continue to re-read as a grown woman. It shares the same strengths of great character portraits, plotting, and sense of place that "Harriet" had, but this sequel has a more languid, mysterious, quirky feel, and dares to leave things hanging. Set on the shores of the wealthy New Yorkers' summer beach playgrounds (and back in the days before they were discreetly luxurious, before they became overrun with bourgeois ridiculousness), it is the perfect book to read in the waning weeks of summer.

Or to re-read.
Profile Image for Marigold.
714 reviews
October 7, 2014
EVERYONE, screamed Jennifer. YOU must READ this BOOK! In my head, I talk like Harriet the Spy! But as I am wise adult (ha), I try not to inflict that on people. Seriously...I wonder if my inner voice developed as a result of reading and re-reading and re-reading Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret as a child?! Of course sometimes my inner voice is Harriet (WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU???!!) and sometimes it is Beth Ellen (I don't know who I am and I want to hide).

I loved Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret as a kid & have kept both on my bookshelf. Recently I read an article alerting me that this is the 50th anniversary year of Harriet the Spy, & that spurred me to read this book, which I always liked even better than the first Harriet book. In fact I started thinking about reading this a couple of weeks ago & once I started thinking about it I couldn't get the urge out of my head!

I still love Harriet, Beth Ellen, Janie, & Harriet's wise, apparently fun parents despite their 1960s style vagueness. (Talk about life? No, run away & play now.) As an adult I am a little appalled by the life of wealth & privilege they live - summer homes! Cooks & maids! Wow. Zeeney & Wallace & Bunny are fabulously over the top & will make you hoot with laughter! Hup, yes. But mostly I LOVE Harriet and her EMPHATIC STYLE! (Harriet would not be happy with the Internet, the lack of any sense of mystery left about anyone, or the universal ban on ALL CAPS!!!) Harriet is NEVER afraid to let EVERYONE know what SHE is THINKING! (On the other hand, I also love when she thinks she's being mysterious & she goes around slitty-eyed just saying, "Hmmmm.") But it's good to know that she'll hold a friend's hand in the night when needed. Harriet, despite her brashness and nosiness and pugnacious rightness, has a good heart.

Profile Image for Chance Lee.
1,326 reviews121 followers
May 22, 2017
First, look at this awful cover from the 1984 paperback edition of this book. It makes Harriet look like the main character (she's not) and Beth Ellen doesn't even have curly hair.

The original cover, with Louise Fitzhugh's illustration, is much better. An illustration of Beth Ellen and Harriet at the beach, it tells us many things about the story -- 1) they're at the beach! This book takes place in the beach town of Water Mill, where Beth Ellen and Harriet, mere acquaintances at school in New York City, find themselves closer friends during the summer. 2) Harriet is further away and her hair is covering her face, suggesting she is a secondary character in this story. 3) Beth Ellen, with curly hair, looks dazedly out into space, which is how most people perceive her.

The Long Secret is Beth Ellen's coming of age story, and I must admit I enjoyed it more than Harriet the Spy. This book is a lot more twisted and complex than Harriet is, dealing with themes of religion, parenting, and friendship rarely tackled so bluntly in fiction, especially fiction for this age group.

The book opens with a shocker -- a mean cashier find a note in her drawer that says JESUS HATES YOU. It's not the only note either. People all over town are receiving mean notes, notes from someone who appears to have knowledge of their lives, someone who has been watching them.

Leave it to Harriet, the loudest spy of all time, to want to get to the bottom of who is leaving the notes. Harriet spends a lot of time yelling and bumping into things and being as unsubtle as a 12-year-old often is as she tries to unravel the mystery. Who could be leaving the notes? The nouveau-riche Jessie Mae Jenkins? The one black character, a Negro preacher? Those are Harriet's two prime suspects, although neither make much sense.

That's really it for Harriet's plotline. She gets a visit from her friend Janie, and she starts to realize how annoying she is to some people, but she doesn't really care. She's the same headstrong Harriet.

Beth Ellen, though, steals the show. Called Mouse by Harriet because she is meek and exists in a permanent state of bewilderment, Beth Ellen is going through an identity crisis. Whereas Harriet wants to be a writer and Janie wants to be a scientist, Beth Ellen wants to be a wife, which to Harriet is absolutely unacceptable.

Perhaps subconsciously Beth Ellen is heading down the same route as her absentee mother, Zeeney, whom she can't even remember. A "free spirit," which is 1960s talk for deadbeat mom, Zeeney abandoned Beth Ellen years ago, only to return when Beth Ellen is thirteen. Although she hasn't been in her daughter's life ever, and doesn't even seem to want a child, Zeeney wants to change Beth Ellen's name, dress her, and dictate her life as if she's a doll. This starts Beth Ellen down a new path, that many kids with horrible parents go down, the road to Being Nothing Like Her Mother.

Beth Ellen turns out to be a surprisingly complex character. Harriet, who talks all the time, can't understand how someone quiet can be interesting, but she learns. Also, Harriet doesn't see how Beth Ellen acts when no one is watching her. I found a scene near the end where, I don't know how else to describe it, Beth Ellen flips the fuck out to be very cathartic. It reminded me of my own adolescent rage (which shamefully lasted, for me, long past adolescence ended). These harsh realistic details are most welcome in fiction for all readers, but especially young ones.

What I appreciated as an adult reading this book is how subtly well-developed the adults are. The confrontation between Harriet's mother, Mrs. Welsch, and Zeeney, who knew Harriet's dad in some capacity when they were teenagers, is delicious. And Mrs. Welsch is such a tender mom to Beth Ellen when she needs it most that it had me all misty eyed. Being twelve, Harriet has no idea what is going on in Adultworld, but as an adult reader, it's fun to read between the lines. The characters also are surprisingly frank about religion, which is refreshing.

Not all the characters are as well-written, however. Characters often use "fat" as an insult, and overweight characters are depicted as out-of-control hippos leaving wreckage in their wake. Also, despite being a progressive in the 1960s, Fitzhugh falls back on the magical Negro stereotype for her one black character. She also continues to portray poor people as idiotic spectacles, even though she seems to be trying to sympathize with them? It comes across like Harper Lee's writing -- be nice to them (poors and blacks) because they can't help it that they're poor and black and probably fat too. To Fitzhugh's characters, the worst things a person can be are fat and poor.

In the end, it turns out the person leaving the notes is I figured it out long before the ending, and I think Harriet would have too if she were actually paying attention. I find it kind of hilarious that the self-proclaimed Harriet the Spy is so unobservant that she never noticed Harriet's preconceived notions about people keep her from seeing who the note-leaver is until the book's final scenes.

Layered, funny, and thoughtful (on most subjects) The Long Secret is a great short read for readers of all ages.
Profile Image for Cheryl .
9,267 reviews398 followers
November 15, 2016
Worst cover ever short-list. Why? The author made it perfectly clear what the girls look like with her own interior illustrations. Well, it's an awful book anyway. I suppose it's meant to have some humor in it, but most of the jokes are so mean-spirited, making fun of what people like Mama Jenkins and Wallace look like, for example. I miss Sport; he was the only redeeming feature of the first book imo. The only redeeming feature of this is the mystery. It's worse than Catcher in the Rye, and Harriet screams and throws temper tantrums even more, and there's a lot of tears and even a lecture on menstruation, and there's not even a nod towards Lord of the Flies like there was in the first book. I do like the few instances of Mouse showing spunk, though, so I guess I'll give it two stars instead of one.
17 reviews5 followers
December 15, 2008
I loved Harriet the Spy, and was so excited to read this next one...but as a kid I found it much more melancholy...I think now that I look back on it, it's because the book actually does capture that melancholy feeling of puberty, of having to leave childhood behind, of being separated out from childhood by what is happening to your body. That is part of what is brilliant about the book. But much more evocative for girls, than boys, I'd think....
Profile Image for Lars Guthrie.
546 reviews169 followers
September 20, 2009
Like 'Harriet the Spy' and 'Sport,' a groundbreaking work of children's literature. I don't know if Judy Blume read this before writing 'Are You There, God?' (published in 1970, five years after 'The Long Secret') but two of the central themes are similar--puberty and religion--so there's little doubt that Fitzhugh opened the door for clear-eyed frankness on such subject matter. Like Margaret, Harriet and her intermittent friend (and the real star of 'Secret') Beth Ann occupy a lofty socioeconomic caste. Fitzhugh, however, searches for, and finds, diversity even in Montauk, where her protagonists are summering. This allows her to connect religion to class, and to introduce the delightful Jessie Mae and her decidedly odd family, and to bring in race (and religion) with another strong character, The Preacher. It's hard not to read in autobiography in Fitzhugh's depiction of Sport's mother in that eponymous work and Beth Ann's mother in 'Secret.' It's not a flattering picture. All of these unusual elements mark Fitzhugh's work as revolutionary, albeit delivered in her endearing and immensely attractive style. On to 'Nobody's Family is Going to Change!' Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Scott.
517 reviews
August 27, 2019
This book starts out wonderfully, with a mystery worthy of Harriet's particular skill set. Someone is leaving notes for people around town, usually biblical quotes with an amusing relevance (though unsettling to the recipients!) But after a while it's all but forgotten and the story shifts to mousy Beth Ellen and her vacuous, self-absorbed mother, who is returning after years spent away in Europe. We are supposed to hate this woman, of course, but these situations go on and on and are quite unpleasant. Beth Ellen, though we can tell she has something bubbling beneath the surface, is too wishy-washy to be of interest. Harriet herself is rather horrid, always yelling at her friends, no more the likeable rogue she was in the first book. The only appealing character is Janie, the intellectual, but she is only in the book briefly. There are strange digressions about religion and menstruation that seem out of place. The mystery of the notes is finally solved as an afterthought in the last few pages. There are a lot of good bits throughout the book, which still earn it a decent rating, but it's not nearly as enjoyable as Harriet the Spy.
Profile Image for Jamie.
98 reviews
May 11, 2022
The Long Secret (1965), the mostly unknown sequel to Harriet the Spy (1964), takes place the summer after the first novel. Instead of being set in New York City, it takes place at the Welsch’s house on Long Island. Harriet’s summer bff is Beth Ellen, who only has a small role in the first book. Part of this story is from the perspective of Beth Ellen, and her running commentary on Harriet’s behavior throughout is truly amazing. It’s like Fitzhugh took all the negative reviews of Harriet as a protagonist (that she is stubborn, unlikeable, rude) and put them into the sequel disguised as Beth Ellen’s analysis of her friend. I was cracking up.

This story also includes, SHOCK, poor and minority characters (!!!), a far cry from the first novel’s Upper East Side setting. I’m glad Harriet is able to get out of her bubble of privilege and grow up a little. Overall, an excellent follow up.
Profile Image for Timothy Power.
Author 5 books16 followers
June 11, 2010
What I love about this book is the touching sense of the desperate boredom of adolescence that Louise Fitzhugh evokes without ever directly addressing the issue. And Harriet M. Welsch has always been a hero to me.
Profile Image for Kathleen Flynn.
Author 1 book397 followers
July 28, 2022
Harriet the Spy was one of my favorite books as a child. I wanted Harriet's life: she lived in a brownstone in Manhattan and had a very independent existence of roaming the neighborhood, spying on people and writing it all down in a notebook. But I never read The Long Secret until now; my small-town library did not have it, and anyway I felt less interested in a story that was all about Beth Ellen, who seemed the meekest and least interesting of Harriet's friends.

I came across a reference to this book recently somewhere and wondered how it would strike me now, excited to meet up with Harriet again after so long, and in the meantime having learned a little about the author, who was as rich and eccentric as many of the characters who populate her books.

Strange. It was strange. Rather in the way that Harriet the Spy is strange -- full of abrupt changes of tone, odd metaphors, status markers that are never explained. Secret takes place not in Manhattan but on Long Island, which is where Harriet and Beth Ellen, um, summer. One of the things I liked best about this book is the setting: Long Island, specifically Water Mill, a hamlet of Southampton, back when it was still inhabited by what I can only describe as the old-fashioned rich people, who did not live in 20,000-square-foot houses, when there were still potato fields and Harriet and Beth Ellen rode around on bikes that they leaned against hedges and did not bother to lock. I don't know this world, but I can imagine it, and it seems nice.

Like Harriet's Manhattan was for a younger me, it's a fantasy world, but this time with an adult's eyes I'm seeing it all rather differently. Harriet seems insufferable: bumptious, impulsive, a yeller, mean to her supposed friend Beth Ellen. Who is way, way richer than I understood in my earlier readings of Harriet the Spy. Beth Ellen is long-black-car-with-a chauffeur, house-full-of-servants, never-needs-to-work-in-her-life rich. She is being raised by her grandmother, because her father has walked out in disgust, and once we meet Beth Ellen's mother, we understand why.

Beth Ellen herself has not seen her mother for seven or eight years; her reappearance on the scene is one of the main plot drivers of this story. The mother is beautiful and terrible: spoiled, frivolous and vain. Such a monster, in fact, that she is both fun to read about and unbelievable.

Her reappearance causes the emergence of feelings in Beth Ellen, who seems to have spent most of her life suppressing them (and this is perhaps why she finds comfort in the irrepressible Harriet). Beth Ellen's finally finding her voice was gratifying, though I never felt she was in much danger from her terrible mother.

The rest of the plot was a bit of a disorderly mess, I thought. And I was struck by how often the author describes fat people with a gruesome, or perhaps gleeful, fascination.

Yet as I think back over the book (having been unable to post this review for several days because Goodreads kept giving me error message when I tried to do and also gave me error messages when I tried to complain about the bug, THANKS A MILLION, GOODREADS) I am struck by how there is something psychologically true about Beth Ellen's quiet rage, something that Fitzhugh got absolutely right. And that this psychological aptness was also something I liked about Harriet the Spy: her utter loneliness when all her classmates turn on her after the notebook is discovered.

Profile Image for merireads.
87 reviews52 followers
August 6, 2016
1.5/5 stars.
What happened? Harriet the Spy has been a favorite book of mine throughout my life, and I loved it just as much when I reread it recently. For me, it's one of those books that just makes me feel...cozy, probably because it was a consistent part of my childhood. I could understand and enjoy it more now that I am older, which also enhanced my reading experience. Plus, Harriet has always been such a relatable book character for me--she loves reading and writing, and she's observant and quirky and imaginative, so what's not to love?
I'd never read The Long Secret until now, and while I wasn't expecting it to be as good as its predecessor, I hoped it would be a light and enjoyable read. Though it was definitely a quick one, I have to say that it did not meet my expectations, and overall it honestly didn't feel like it fit after the first book.
For starters, there wasn't any follow-up to the events of the first book. Yes, Harriet was spending time with Beth Ellen and Janie, but I would have liked to know a lot more--what happened between Harriet and her classmates? How did the rest of her year go? Honestly, the book picked up from what I felt was a completely random point, without providing much information to connect the two books together.
Also, I felt as if the events of the book could have been much more exciting, and paced better. While
I liked the plot itself, I didn't like the way it was written very much. In fact, it felt like I was reading something by a different author entirely. Harriet also took a more unappealing turn as a character in this book--maybe it was because I got to see her actions through Beth Ellen's perspective, but I felt like she had dramatically changed for the worse. However, I did like reading about Beth Ellen--I'd wondered about her as a character in the first book, so I was happy to get to hear more about her and her life.
The Long Secret is more geared towards younger middle-grade readers, so maybe my age is playing a part in my criticism of the book. If you're looking for something quick and don't plan on being critical, you might have a different opinion, but I wasn't a fan.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Cherie.
1,286 reviews113 followers
November 13, 2015
I loved it but I have so many questions.

The main story in this book is really about Harriet's friend Beth Ellen. She is so quiet and mousy but she goes through a lot during the course of this book. At one point, I almost fell out of my chair laughing, and by the end, I doubted that I had understood anything. I was happy for Beth Ellen, but like Harriet, I didn't understand her either.

There were some other characters and things that happened in the book that I would give anything to ask Fitzhugh about why she included them. They were just not realistic to me.
Profile Image for V. Greene.
Author 5 books4 followers
June 25, 2009
When I first read this, I was disappointed by the new angle on Harriet. I'd built her up as rather a hero and had overlooked her more grating aspects. Too, I think the book made me uncomfortable because though Harriet impressed me, Beth Ellen is probably more who I am, too.

Age brings perspective. This really was quite the book.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,674 reviews280 followers
January 17, 2022
In the sequel to Harriet the Spy, Harriet is still spying as well as trying to write a story. Her family is at their summer cottage on the shore and strange notes with biblical quotations begin to appear in the village. Harriet recruits her friend Beth Ellen's unwilling help in getting to the bottom of the mystery.

Harriet is as annoying as ever and Louise Fitzhugh's writing is as jarring as Harriet is annoying. Well, puberty is a jarring time and I admire how well Fitzhugh captures it. The girls are 11 going on 12 and most of what adults do is cloaked in mystery as they try to figure it all out.

There were not many books for kids in the 1960s that dealt with the onset of menstruation, the odd bodily stirrings when around boys, the wild imaginings that occur. Judy Blume, Madeline L'Engle, and Beverly Cleary were about the only other ones. Each had their own style ranging from comforting to mystical to humorous. Fitzhugh was perhaps the most outrageous of them all and the most fearless.
Profile Image for Robyn.
1,779 reviews118 followers
May 19, 2020
What do I like about this book?

The heat... it makes me remember the actual heat of long summer days and the boredom, drama, and job of being 12 years old and being on the brink of growing up. When I read this book, I actually remember riding my bike and what cement smells like after a summer rain. I am not sure why, there is no rain in the book, but maybe it is because it reminds me of my 12th summer.

For a book written in the '60s, this was groundbreaking and probably extremely controversial because of the discussion of menstruation and open mention of poor parenting. I love how Beth Ellen is so extremely introverted and so dramatic, if only on the inside. While Beth Ellen is clam and flat on the outside, she is working hard to be as blank on the inside, thus this is her drama. I think she played well against Jessie Mae, the southern holly roller who knows the value of "bless her little heart" and loud Harriet.

I enjoyed the book and rated it a strong 3.5 stars for general enjoyment.

Happy Reading!
Profile Image for lucy  black.
506 reviews34 followers
August 26, 2010
Lucy Longstocking review http://www.wcl.govt.nz/blogs/kids/ind...

Lots of people have read Harriet the Spy and loved it, but not so many know about the two follow up books. Harriet returns in The Long Secret, which is a wonderful summer holiday story. The long Secret begins with a nasty (but sort-of funny) secret note and Harriet’s burning desire to find out who sent it. She enlists her mousy friend Beth Allen to reluctantly help her, and they have lots of odd encounters along the way. I like the peculiar characters – like the family who are trying to get rich making toe medicine (EW), and Bunny (COOL NAME) the pyjama-wearing piano player. The Long Secret is two books in one really: on one hand it is a riveting mystery that involves a funny holiday township, but on the other hand it is a story about feeling left out and friendship and growing up and stuff. (That leaves no hands to hold biscuits, but it’s a summer book so maybe you could just slurp a milkshake instead?).

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is sick of children’s stories that are all sweet and fluffy and nice. Louise Fitzhugh died at a young age and it’s a real shame because she is one of the few authors that seems to “get” kids. She doesn’t write about kids the way adults like to see kids: boring, stupid and polite – she writes about kids the way kids are: interesting, thoughtful and really cool.
Profile Image for Chris.
1,121 reviews12 followers
March 29, 2010
I remember reading this book as a kid and not being too nuts about it, but after rereading it, I just love it. One of my favorite things about Fitzhugh's writing is that she makes most of the adults in her books out to be complete idiots. That scene in the Shark's Tooth Inn-classic. I think this book may just be too much for all but the most sophisticated of kid readers. Who of them are going to see Agatha Plummer as a total cougar, and Wallace ("HUP!" love that), as a money grubbing gigolo. Then there's Bunny....So many phonies. I did like though, that she made Harriet's parents, who were very unsympathetic characters in the first book, really caring and loving and wise. Such a satire. Love Beth Ellen, and her new found independence. Harriet was a bit over the top, always shouting and sort of obnoxious, though. Wonderful book.
Profile Image for Kate.
762 reviews114 followers
July 30, 2007
This book, from the Harriet the Spy author with a focus on one of her friends, FLOORED me. I absolutely love it.
Profile Image for Penni Russon.
Author 16 books118 followers
January 14, 2013
I might like this better than the first one. I loved Beth Ellen, the setting, the bigger questions at play.
Profile Image for Hannah Garden.
978 reviews164 followers
May 30, 2018
I liked this and would have given it the three-star rating to indicate as much but there is a short stout brown & white spotted dog in here named Moo-Moo and she gets a star of her own.
Profile Image for Joshua Gross.
608 reviews14 followers
November 27, 2016
The Long Secret is a follow-up book to the classic children's novel Harriet the Spy, and while Harriet is a prominent main character, the main story is essentially her friend Beth Ellen's coming of age story. This novel takes place over the summer, when Beth Ellen and Harriet live at their summer homes away from their usual friends. They tend to be little more than acquaintances during the school year, but out of necessity are closer friends during the summer. There is a main mystery plot to the book the revolves around mysterious notes that are being left for people around the town, all of them biblical-sounding quotes and usually with a specific message to the receiver calling upon a secret they have or a short-coming they possess. Harriet's main plot line is her determination to solve this mystery and know everything about everything and everyone. Beth Ellen's plot line is a little more convoluted, as she's not having her greatest summer. She gets her period, she gets pushed around by Harriet, and she gets a not so welcome surprise dumped on her in the form of meeting her self-involved socialite mother for the first time. I think this book holds some special meaning for its intended audience, which is young girls 11 to 12 years old, but also would be interesting for an adult to read as well, considering the glimpse into the time period and the weird mixed messages of the book.
One appealing factor of the book for young women would be there's someone here they can relate to. Harriet is loud, opinionated, sometimes obnoxious, wants to know everything, and is a little bossy. Beth Ellen, on the other hand, is shy and quiet, which often misleads people (particularly Harriet) into believing she's daft half the time, but Beth Ellen has a quiet, contemplative intelligence and an inability to make her needs and wants known in an effective manner. A young reader could identify to at least some extent with either one of these girls, but they also have Jessie Mae to identify with if neither of those work for them. Jessie Mae is kind, smart, and religious, but also speaks her mind and wants to be a preacher when she grows up. She acknowledges the difficulty she will have choosing this career and being a woman, but she's certainly up for the challenge. There is also a brief cameo by Harriet's regular school year friend Janie, who's a very opinionated young scientist and who's also a little bit mean and crazy.
The main story of Beth Ellen's coming of age is going to be what the intended audience takes away most from this book, though. She has to discover who she is if she wants to be a bored housewife, if she wants to be a self-involved socialite like her mother, or if she wants to be something different. She has to deal with coming to terms with speaking up for herself and making her feelings known in order to take charge of her own life and dealing with the general confusion of growing up. The book also touches upon religion to some extent. While Beth Ellen does attend church with her grandmother, and Jessie Mae is a church enthusiast, Harriet has never been and knows little about religion or the type of people who practice religion, and is interested in learning more. The book also deals with some feminist issues, such as when Harriet has a meltdown about Beth Ellen saying she just wanted to be a wife, when Harriet wants to be a writer, Janie wants to be a scientist, and Jessie Mae wants to be a preacher. Jessie Mae makes it clear to Beth Ellen that it is her choice to make, though, while Harriet's trying to tell her what a boring choice that is.
There is also, like in Harriet the Spy, some discussion about people's socioeconomic status. Harriet's family is pretty rich, and Beth Ellen's family is really rich. The two girls actually ride to the store in Beth Ellen's limo in the beginning of the book, and are referred to by one character as, “Little rich critters.” This is in contrast to Jessie Mae's family, who were originally poor country folk who are coming into money now that their mother has invented some weird toe medicine, and also possibly in contrast to the socioeconomic situation of the reader depending on who they are. I remember reading Harriet the Spy when I was a kid and wishing my family was as rich as Harriet's, or even Beth Ellen's. This came up a little more in Harriet the Spy, as her nanny Ole Golly took her to see how her mother lived, and Harriet routinely spied on people that were poorer or lived in a different way than she did. If Jessie Mae's family didn't come off almost like Louise Fitzhugh were making fun of them this might be a little more effective in the Long Secret, but I don't think most young readers would pick up on that.
Adults would get value from this book as nostalgia, reading about life in the 60's and also reading about 11 to 12-year-olds and remembering when they were that age. It's also interesting because of the time it was written, the issues it tries to discuss, and some more problematic themes that come up. There is little diversity in this book, with it having one black character who is little more than a 'magical negro' trope who is wise, mysterious, and helps the white protagonists. He is The Preacher that Jessie Mae is learning from, and he is described as looking like a 'basset hound covered in chocolate.' A part of this could be attributed to the attitudes of the time period, with Fitzhugh thinking her addition of a black character to be more on the progressive side, but it wouldn't be by our modern standards. Fitzhugh also, in both Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret, almost makes fun of poorer characters. The Jenkins family in the Long Secret do possess a lot of negative stereotypes associated with poor country people, and Jessie Mae is really the only character in the family that gets any more depth. Ole Golly's mother in Harriet the Spy also is kind of a negative caricature than a fully developed character, and it could subtly influence how Fitzhugh's audience views people from poorer backgrounds.
From a feminist standpoint, it was ahead of its time and providing essentially good female role models for young women. Beth Ellen is being raised traditionally to behave like a good young woman 'should,' which means she is quiet, pleasing to look at, and never loses control of her emotions. This book effectively shows how difficult that unrealistic ideal can be for a young woman to deal with, particularly when she's growing up and dealing with more adult challenges. Harriet is very forward-thinking, believes she can be a spy or a writer or whatever she wants and isn't always very concerned about behaving in a traditionally 'female' manner. Even Jessie Mae, despite her traditional values and religious extremism, is a positive role model in that she's wanting to be a preacher regardless if women traditionally don't have that career, and isn't concerned with anyone having a problem with it. The book also addresses Beth Ellen getting her period and how she deals with that, and it's discussed with Harriet and Janie. They have a rather entertaining conversation about menstruation and Harriet feels left out because unlike the other two she hasn't had her period yet. This is done in a very straightforward, non-sentimental way that contrasts from other books at the time and later that dealt with the same issue.
Ultimately, despite some problem areas, I think it is a good book. I would and do recommend it to both adults and children, and I also recommend Harriet the Spy. It is a nice look into a different era, with different ideas, and a world of privilege as well, but still from the point of view of children in that world. If there is one thing that the books do seem to encourage, whether it's done well or not, is seeing things from other people's perspectives and learning about how different people live. I also really enjoy reading Harriet's private, often snarky thoughts she writes in her notebooks, and what she observes about other people. The books are written well and hold the reader's attention, and I think anyone could enjoy them.
Profile Image for D. B. Guin.
825 reviews70 followers
June 15, 2020
A bit of an odd book, but I guess it's the point of Harriet the Spy books to be more than a bit odd.

Anyway, this one was about Beth Ellen Hansen grappling with her identity and her place in the world. Meanwhile, Harriet is there also being by turns a friend and the absolute scourge of polite society.

I can't tell if I'm just biased from too many re-reads, or if Beth Ellen's perspective is less vitally weird and compelling than Harriet's, but this book was enjoyable regardless. Fitzhugh's sophisticated ability to convey a very specific feeling while not ever spelling it out exactly and making sure you know the character feeling it doesn't understand what they're feeling is as good as ever. The amount of religion in this installment felt a little strange, but I guess you do need new thorny topics to tackle in Fitzhugh's sideways way.

Harriet's parents are particularly excellent in this, and Beth Ellen's grandmother is a great character as well. Beth Ellen's story, while more low-key than being inside Harriet's mind, is a very satisfying one. You can't help but feel how powerful and freed she feels by the end.
Profile Image for Ian Hrabe.
701 reviews10 followers
January 28, 2022
What I liked about this one was that you absolutely could not get away with writing this book today. Some of these older books really let their 60s colors shine (mostly through descriptions of weird/gross sandwiches a la A Wrinkle in Time, Harriet the Spy) but this one really goes all out. I mean there’s a full blown pro-atheism argument that kneecaps organized religion that would make many a southern school board lick their chops at the thought of banning this book on grounds of “satanism” or whatever. There’s also a total scathing indictment of capitalism that ultimately manifests itself in Beth Ellen’s Zelda Fitzgerald-Esque mother who returns to the states from living the expat life in Europe and reluctantly entertains the daughter she abandoned 10 years ago. Harriet is still a pretty obnoxious protagonist and really, that’s sort of what makes this and it’s predecessor so interesting: because they understand that kids can be obnoxious as hell and I appreciate that.
Profile Image for Eva.
663 reviews30 followers
June 14, 2020
The climax of this book is deeply satisfying. We truly love to see a rich, disinterested socialite parent get thrown over and the child being able to actually stay with someone who loves them. Also, the message that it's okay and good to be angry about injustices is very good and that being 'ladylike' doesn't preclude this.
Profile Image for Vaidehi.
23 reviews
June 13, 2017
It took me inordinately long to read this book considering it's length, but there was just so much to unpack.

AND I was surprised by the ending.
Profile Image for LobsterQuadrille.
875 reviews
July 18, 2020
As much as I love Harriet the Spy, I love this sequel even more! Louise Fitzhugh's writing style is deceptively simple, and very good at describing confusing and complex emotions. I love all the little details that are such an overlooked part of our everyday lives: like getting a funny image in our heads when someone says something odd, picking at a scab, or staring at something for no particular reason. Most writers omit these kinds of details and assume they are unimportant, but Fitzhugh's use of them is very smart. They make the world and the characters seem much more real to me! It feels like stream-of-consciousness writing, but it is much more restrained and never puts style over substance.

There is no shortage of themes, as Beth Ellen's story covers everything from entering adolescence to uncertainty about religion and becoming your own person. Her conflicting feelings about all these are conveyed with delicacy and simplicity, but always ring true. And though this is a very emotional book, it is very funny too. The deadpan humor is clever but still child-accessible, especially in the way Fitzhugh observes people. She satirizes the shallowness and herd mentality of the "jet set", while the humor revolving around humbler characters like the Jenkins family and Janie feels more like affectionate teasing than outright ridicule.

This is a strange, ambiguous story(we never know for certain the note-leaver's motive). But I find this makes it more impactful rather than unsatisfying, because it always leaves me pondering .

The Long Secret is a very unique middle grade book. It's not easy to describe, except to say that it is both down-to-earth and slightly surreal, both simple and complex, and both strange and wonderful . After many re-reads I still count this story among my favorites!
Profile Image for Kit.
162 reviews
March 6, 2022
I don't know what to rate this book that would be ambiguous enough... So I'm going with a four which is what I would rate it if it were any other book.
The first in the series I knew as a child, while it have the same chaotically disturbingness, Ole Golly is there. And Ole Golly understands what's going on, giving a sense of control, even when she leaves you feel that a part of Harriet will somehow learn to be Ole Golly without her being there. In this book that's not here at all. The closest we get is Harriet's mother and Beth Ellen's grandmother, and they're both so normal, they help, but not with the dastardly parts of these children which Ole Golly saw. I remember this unrestrained and disturbing nature of a child who sees enough to not get what the world is whatsoever, the distinct ideas that sprout like stickyness with no basis in reality. It's all so fun, and really scary. The whole book was written like someone who remembers this too. I don't think even I get this review.
I was recommended this book by Lemony Snicket, which is how I was going to start this review, but after reading it, thats just weird Mr Snicket. How is this book better than the first one? I ask you. Nothing can beat the sweet craziness of Harriet the spy, not this book of Harriet the crazy shouting and very bad friend except for when she holds Beth Ellen's hand when she needed it the most. Poor Beth Ellen, I just wanted to hug her.
This book has a lot of religion and religious ideas in it, which feels off-putting, and a cracker of a mystery that I couldn't solve, and find it hard to believe that Harriet astutely solved just by watching the expression on someone's face. The solution also feels a bit shoehorned, and the red herrings were laid on thick, which accounts for all the religion.
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