On the upper east side, 11 year old Harriet Welsh is playing “Town” with her friend Sport, imagining a crime-filled town in the roots of a tree, when she and Sport are invited by her nanny Ole Golly to go out to Far Rockaway visit to Golly’s mother, who isn’t all there.
Why Harriet might be hard to identify with: She’s a mean little rich girl with a live-in nanny and chef on the upper east side. We simultaneously identify with her mean side and feel repulsed by it. (Kids in 2020 tend not to like the book, because they’ve been raised to be nicer than us Gen X kids)
- Her notebook is the physicalization of her mind, and her constant talisman.
- She has secrets. Fitzhugh lets us know she has a secret life, and then only gradually reveals it to us.
- By the end of this first chapter, we have a sense of it, but we see that it’s a secret from everyone else in Harriet’s life.
- She traverses worlds from a very rich home a very poor home in this first chapter, and we always like heroes who can visit both.
- We all remember those little moments, around this age, when we realized that authority figures were human beings with their own things going on.
- Objects are anthropomorphized in a way that makes this world come alive. “And her shoes were a wonder. Long, long, black, bumpy things with high, laced sides up to the middle of the shin, bulging with the effort of holding in those ankles, their laces splitting them into grins against the white of the socks below.”
- The portrayal of Ole Golly’s mom is like nothing we’ve ever seen in a kid’s book before. We’re used to dead moms, but not negelcted ones that are tragically mentally disabled.
- She’s not as good of a writer as she wishes she was, and Sport’s dubious toward her narrative shortcuts wounds her a bit.
- She feels embarrassed to see the scene between Golly and her poor mother.
- Crucially, she’s starting to very vaguely realize she might be a bad person, “Harriet felt very ugly all of a sudden.” We like self-awareness, as long as it dawns very slowly.
- Like all writers, she has the superpower of making something out of nothing.
- And she has incisive powers of observation about her fellow New Yorkers, though her observations lean towards the vicious.
- We like her snarkiness. We like kids who talk like they’re adults, such as when she introduces Sport as her husband.