After being mesmerized by “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt (click here for the review) and rather captivated by “The Goldfinch” by the same author (click here for the review), I had to read also the third* book written by Tartt – “The Little Friend”. Given the previous two experiences, I had very high hopes towards this book … as dear Shakespeare said “Expectation is the root of all heartache“.

* the chronological order of publishing was: “The Secret History” (1992), “The Little Friend” (2002), “The Goldfinch” (2013)

donna tartt goldfinch the secret history the little friend readers high tea

The Little Friend in a nutshell

The book tells the story of Harriet, a 12-year old girl living in Mississippi in the 1970s. She was just a baby when her brother, Robin, died in mysterious circumstances. During the summer holiday Harriet becomes deeply preoccupied by the unexplained death and tries to seek revenge for her brother.

the little friend donna tartt book review readers high tea

Overall impression

While I enjoyed reading the book, I am not overly enthusiastic about it. The first thought that comes into my mind about “The Little Friend” is waiting. Or as Anda from The Busy Shelf recently said about a book: “It was basically like a pot of simmering water. Simmering but not quite boiling.”

According to Tartt’s words (The Gurdian, 2002), it is “a frightening, scary book about children coming into contact with the world of adults in a frightening way” (Tartt, 2002). And it’s true – it not a murder mystery, as I was expecting.

From certain points of view, “The Little Friend” reminds me of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee – children / teenagers learning about the unfair and weird world of adults.

caitlinmillustration the little friend donna tartt2
Illustration by Caitlin Murphy,

The Sherlock girl 

Harriet, oh Harriet … She is an overly courageous girl, with bold ideas and the determination to put them into practice. Clever and independent, she grows mature over the course of the story. Facing tough issues such as death, social injustice, violence, and drug addiction, Harriet is an unusual heroine.

What I will keep as a lesson from her story, a good reminder for anyone: check your assumptions before acting on them!

caitlinmillustration the little friend donna tartt
Illustration by Caitlin Murphy,

Women as backbone of the family

An interesting aspect of the story is the importance of women in Harriet’s family. The closest relatives to Harriet and her sister are the grandmothers and grand-aunts, who keep the family together.

In contrast is the absence of men, who are present only as shadows of the past – little Robin, Harriet’s father and Harriet’s great-grandfather.

Exotic elements: snakes and breath holding

In this novel, Tartt introduced two exotic elements: venomous snakes and breath holding underwater. Both elements are key to the storyline and add an interesting twist to the typical (and a bit boring) atmosphere of Mississippi.

I find the snakes’ appearances to be some of the most engaging parts of the story ๐Ÿ™‚ Adrenaline, fear, unknown, a bit of humour – when snakes are in the picture I get what I was expecting in the first place!

Illustration by Caitlin Murphy,

Further reading

Here’s the review of “The Little Friend” by Jess from Novel Ideas – a different view on the book. I especially like this part: “Tartt introduces a crime she has no intention of explaining. Instead, she focuses on how the terrible act of murder shapes the Cleve family [..].

And another review by one of my favourite book bloggers: Lucy from The Literary Edit. She said about the book that it is “a tale that balances on the periphery of gothic horror, murder mystery, literary fiction and thriller, The Little Friend is a story of the South [..].


To conclude, “The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt is more than the story of Harriet and her summer adventure to revenge her brother. While not being an adrenaline-rushing story as I wrongly assumed, the 700-page book is a slower-paced profound story sprinkled with exotic elements. I do recommend reading it, despite my slightly broken heart ๐Ÿ™‚

If you would like to buy books or other (non)bookish things, please consider using one of these links: Amazon | Waterstones | Carturesti. Thank you!

‘Till next time … happy reading!


The illustrations from this post are created by Caitlin Murphy as part of her project inspired by “The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt – check out her website to see the whole project!

7 thoughts on “The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (book review) – the story of a Sherlock girl growing up

  1. It’s funny how many people feel the same way about this book, the simmering pot of water is an appropriate analogy, it never quite got to the point of being interesting for me. I quit about 3/4 of the way through, thought it was dissapointing compared to her other amazing books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that it is different compared to her other books, though I would say it’s a bit similar to “The Goldfinch” in terms of the coming-of-age journey.

      It’s fascinating how much we are influenced by our own expectations! I think that I would’ve liked it much more if I knew nothing about the writer. But after reading “The Secret History”, which perfectly matched my reading preferences, it was impossible to not have high expectations …

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve literally just pulled this from my bookshelves twenty minutes ago as my next read. I know full well it won’t be as good as The Goldfinch or The Secret History, but I love a story set in the South so I’m still looking forward to reading. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the review! This is the only book by Tartt which I have yet to read. I plan to read it this year, as part of my Beat the Backlist Challenge. The Little Friend sounds a tad different from the two books by Tartt but I am still giving it a chance ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am crossing my fingers that Tartt will release a new work within the year as it seems she publishes a new one every ten years. ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I was not aware at all that thereโ€™s already 10 years since The Goldfinch was published!๐Ÿ˜ฒ
      Iโ€™m crossing my fingers as well, would looove to read more books by Tartt! ๐Ÿคž


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