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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book Review: Girl Sleuth

Perhaps you’re thinking what I’m thinking…another book review? Yes, I know, but it isn’t my fault the books I’ve been reading lately have been so fascinating they’re worthy of a blog post! (Or maybe it is my fault for picking such intriguing books…)

Anyway, I’ve just finished a book about Nancy Drew, the heroine of my favorite childhood series. And my, did it reinvigorate my interest in her! It made me nostalgic for what I loved to read in my pre-teen/early teen days…fast-paced, plot-based mysteries and adventures. In fact, I got this writerly thought in my head: Maybe I should reread a bunch of my Nancy Drew’s to give me an infusion of plot ideas…I feel weak on that in my own writing!


Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak is a must-read for anyone who is or has been an ardent fan of Nancy Drew, original or revised. It clears up the mystery of her authorship, the identity of pseudonym Carolyn Keene, the wide appeal of Nancy, and the differences between her old and new versions and when exactly she changed. It goes into all things Nancy Drew in pop culture. Beyond that, it gives a fascinating peek into the history of children’s book publishing in America and into the lives of the people responsible for Nancy's creation: Edward Stratemeyer, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, and Mildred Wirt Benson.

The Stratemeyer Syndicate is the principal “character” of this book. Its inner workings were quite intriguing. It turns out Edward Stratemeyer was the hero behind many of the classic dime-novel characters—Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, the Rover boys, and so on—and all these series were written under pseudonyms. Some reading this probably already knew that, but I wasn’t aware of these books’ origins.

The only thing I, personally, did not like about Girl Sleuth was the author’s feminist bias. Nancy Drew became an icon during the women’s lib movement of the 1960s and ’70s, even though the women who created her were conservative on that front (they were of the previous generation, after all). The author used Nancy Drew as a measuring rod and a jumping-off point to go into the history of feminism, though the character herself was never intended as such a symbol. But, the cultural tie-ins were interesting, because American women did live through these attitudes and events. I found myself agreeing with Harriet S. Adams, one of Nancy’s creators, who though not a women’s libber believed that women have brains, rather than the author, who counted stay-at-home motherhood as an unfortunate setback to women’s advancement.

So, it will make you think about the issue of feminism, but at the same time, I think you’ll be pleased with how Nancy is presented. (One warning: Toward the end, there are a couple of obscenities, because they are part of quotations.) (Disclaimer: I think most of my readers view feminism as I do, but if you do not, it is not my intention to open up a discussion about it. Thanks!)


Girl Sleuth makes me so glad I still have all my 56 revised Nancy Drew’s because I plan to reread them after this. I also have a facsimile edition of the very first, The Secret of the Old Clock, as it was in 1930, that I plan to reread first. I’m also reminded that I need to insert a reference to Nancy Drew somewhere in my 1930s novel…she was all the rage then, so why not capitalize on the opportunity to give a nod to one of my most beloved fictional heroines?

Have you read and liked the Nancy Drew mystery stories? I think part of their appeal is how many generations loved them. My mom never read them; surprisingly, as a child she did not like to read (boy, has that changed!). But I need to ask my grandmother, who grew up during the twenties and thirties, if she read any!

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