... a fun, gossipy biography ... But Fitzhugh herself left few personal papers: she didn’t write a lot of letters, and the small number of journals she kept continue to be held closely by the estate. The stories that Brody is able to tell the reader, then, are mostly second- or third-hand, conveyed to her by friends as they reminisced after Fitzhugh’s death or by the handful of enterprising earlier writers who attempted to crack the nut of Fitzhugh’s life ... Brody’s account of the novel relies heavily on generational analysis; she sees Harriet the Spy as a prototypical Baby Boomer text, a 'countercultural' story that questions authority, and she—like many other critics—presents the novel instrumentally, as a tool that readers can use to do something else with ... Brody—working with interviews given by various friends of Fitzhugh’s—links her death on November 19, 1974, to the middling reviews that Nobody’s Family Is Going to Change received that fall. The evidence feels thin ... After I finished...I felt like I knew Fitzhugh better, could hear her voice more clearly, and was afforded new insight into her fiction. But there’s a part of me that still holds onto something far deeper that is dramatized in Fitzhugh’s fiction—that nobody owes themselves to anyone, least of all Fitzhugh to us.
... a highly enjoyable biography by Leslie Brody, a professor at the University of Redlands in California and the author of a 2010 biography of Jessica Mitford ... Ms. Brody’s engaging biography reminds us how fragile and serendipitous artistic beginnings can be, yet how mighty and enduring their endings.
In Sometimes You Have to Lie an engrossing and carefully researched biography of Louise Fitzhugh, Leslie Brody vibrantly tells the story of the complicated and ultimately triumphant life of the author of Harriet the Spy. She presents a full portrait of Fitzhugh, previously a shadowy figure at best, and places her firmly in the top rank of children’s book creators. What’s more, she establishes that Fitzhugh was a writer and artist who had an indelible impact on generations of young readers and adult writers as disparate as Jonathan Franzen and Alison Bechdel ... We can always read (or reread) Harriet the Spy. And now, thanks to this superb biography, we have become intimately familiar with its enigmatic and fascinating creator.
... a succinct and readable portrait of the short-lived and charismatic lesbian writer and illustrator ... With Brody’s storytelling, Fitzhugh’s personality resonates distinctly, deliciously, to a degree that the reader falls in love with Fitzhugh as much as with the heroine of any good novel. Privacy, after all, does not equal shyness ... Wherever Brody’s research hits the sealed lips of former lovers or estates, the biographer leaves spaces alive and lets secrets and omissions speak for themselves—she paints a distinct enough character of Fitzhugh for the reader to fill in the blanks. What she does end up uncovering of Fitzhugh’s life story, Brody seems to suggest, like many queer histories, was never truly hidden. It was just kept slightly out of the spotlight of a hetero-centric world ... The mysteries at the heart of this biography, alongside its depictions of various eras of queer literary New York City, only make for an even more compelling read. And Brody’s complex depiction of Fitzhugh, with her contradictions and idiosyncrasies, her tireless work and quest for artistic fulfillment, becomes a refreshing study of the arduous process and pay-offs of creativity itself: its fits, its dead ends, its blinding inspirations, leaving behind a vast and complicated legacy that might, in the end, emit one truly great achievement, a single character and her unforgettable name—Harriet the Spy.
Generations of children, and more than few adults, have embraced the antics of Harriet the Spy and its singular heroine since it was published in 1964. As Leslie Brody reports in Sometimes You Have to Lie , her absorbing biography of the elusive author Louise Fitzhugh, the classic middle grade novel sold around 2.5 million copies in its first five years, a number that is now approaching 5 million worldwide. Fitzhugh, who died at age 46 in 1974, was publicity-shy even by the more genteel standards of her day, and her literary executors have remained guarded about releasing her private papers. Faced with this estimable hurdle, Brody has succeeded admirably in reconstructing Fitzhugh’s complicated, often troubled life.
Brody enthusiastically describes Louise’s thrilling adventures on ocean liners to Europe, hanging out in Parisian cafés and painting in Bologna, before moving to Greenwich Village ... Brody performed detailed research via newspaper clippings, correspondence, and a variety of interviews, and her descriptions in Sometimes You Have To Lie can get downright granular ... Brody makes the case that the life Fitzhugh was able to craft can be listed among her most impressive creations: devoted friends, one long-term romance after another, and the will to never compromise over who she was—neither regarding her sexuality nor anything else. It makes the biography’s title puzzling. The true heart of Fitzhugh’s life can be found in what Ole Golly says after that line: 'But to yourself you must always tell the truth.' In Sometimes You Have To Lie , Brody shows that Louise Fitzhugh certainly did so, offering Harriet The Spy fans even more to admire.
... a vivid and astonishing view of a remarkable and complicated woman ... Most requests for access to Fitzhugh’s papers are declined and this places biographers, such as Brody, at a distinct disadvantage. Brody has, in great part, overcome this deficiency through conversations with Fitzhugh’s contemporaries, friends, and family. That makes the biography more interesting and insightful ... Fortunately, Brody recognizes that any Fitzhugh biography must include her sexual orientation as an integral part of the story...The fact that Fitzhugh was a lesbian is woven through the story as an essential element and helps explain what and who she was and how it affected her work and her life ... One does not need to have read Harriet the Spy or heard of Louise Fitzhugh to appreciate this book. Biographies are intended to give readers insights into the lives of people, and Brody’s book does not disappoint.
In this fast read of a biography, Leslie Brody brings to life the spirited, ambitious and deeply independent Fitzhugh, whose early life was straight out of a Southern melodrama and whose later life was straight out of — well, Suzuki Bean, perhaps, the novel she wrote with Sandra Scoppettone about the 'baby beatnik' who lived in Greenwich Village ... Her fierce devotion to art, her intense friendships, her fights with her editors, her rebellion against her father are all sketched out here. This book lacks a deep sense of Fitzhugh — intensely private, she left behind few letters or journals from which to draw and only allowed two photographs of herself to be published during her lifetime — but provides a fascinating window on the life of 1950s Bohemian New York.
... a thoroughly researched biography ... Brody has not only interviewed all of Fitzhugh’s remaining contemporaries and mined the existent drafts, letters, and papers, but she sets her subject’s life firmly in the context of her times ... A few photographs are included and I could only wish that some of Fitzhugh’s artwork could have been reproduced within these pages.
... a study that reveals the quiet subversiveness of Harriet the Spy and adds sharp political potency to the book’s seemingly innocent play with questions of secrecy and surveillance ... Where Sometimes You Have to Lie falls short is that it often presents Harriet the Spy as singular in its radicalism for the time ... It is true that none of these books had the commercial reach of Harriet the Spy. And if the true measure of a spy is how deeply they can infiltrate, then perhaps Harriet the Spy deserves the leftist bona fides that Brody bestows on it.
... the reader has little access to Fitzhugh’s voice, her observations about others, or her private thoughts ... it is hard to ascertain the truth about this family ... refusing to wear women’s clothes was not androgynous in the 1950s and 1960s: it was a self- conscious attempt to present as masculine, something Brody seems not to know what to do with. Similarly, Brody presents Fitzhugh as having intense political convictions but no commitments ... Generations of Harriet M. Welsch fans will, and should, buy this book to learn more about how this classic of children’s literature was born in a queer bohemia. Even given what Brody has accomplished, I’m quite sure that there is more to know about Louise Fitzhugh. I can’t help but hope that there is a third biographer out there, perhaps still scribbling in her notebook in jeans, sneakers, and a hoodie, who will dig even deeper.
Throughout her life, Fitzhugh was often forced to cover up details about herself from the public at large, including the fact that she was openly gay ... In this compelling telling, Brody follows Fitzhugh’s life from the brief and tumultuous relationship between her parents to her exploration of her own sexuality, her colorful life in New York City, and her personal struggles.
A scholarly biography of the creator of Harriet the Spy, the nosy scamp who brought 'a new realism' to children’s fiction ... A diligent but sometimes-hazy portrait of a beloved children’s author and illustrator.