|Beth Ellen, courtesy of Flickr|
Beth Ellen appears in Harriet the Spy as a shy, pretty girl with no personality. She's a real "Mary Sue" in that book until the end when she plays a pivotal role during a class election.
But in The Long Secret, Beth Ellen is the main character, and Fitzhugh peeled back the layers of her upscale, privileged life to reveal subtle anger and damaged childhood - all while telling a mystery. Who is leaving anonymous notes all over Water Mill, Long Island?
Harriet is still there, brash and brave as ever. She and Beth Ellen are best friends for the summer, since their families both have houses there, and over the course of the season they meet the Preacher, the Jenkins Family, and Beth Ellen's real mother, Zeeney.
Because Zeeney has arrived with her new husband, Wallace, who converses only with one word - Hup! This forces Beth Ellen to reexamine her life with her grandmother, her friendship with Harriet, and confront the enormities of growing up. The scene when she gets her period for the first time is so, so, so much better than Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. (Sorry, Judy Bloom fans.)
|The very issue I had, courtesy of jezebel.com|
Furthermore, this book made me laugh out loud, which was embarrassing in a quiet reading classroom. I defy anyone to go through the chapter set in the country club as Harriet spies on Zeeney and Beth Ellen without a chuckle. However, the scene is quietly sad, as well, as Beth Ellen limply puts up with everything her mother does - until Harriet's own wonderful mother steps in.
And the setting truly came to life for me. If you've read my blog before you'll know I love maps, and The Long Secret comes through with a fantastic map of Water Mill. I can just picture the gas station where the girls go to fill their bike tires with air before they buy cookies and head to the beach.
I've only scratched the surface here. You can still find images like Mother Jenkins wearing the same black dress as clothing and bathing suit, making toe medicine from watermelons, and - of course - tomato sandwiches. Janey's visit is superb. So is the Preacher himself. They are all detailed with the usual brilliantly scratchy illustrations.
But shining bright throughout the book is Beth Ellen (Mouse) herself, finding a voice during one Long summer.
Do yourself a favor and find this book.