Monday, November 21, 2005

Girl Sleuth (Melanie Rehak)

I come from a family of movers and shakers. Well, mostly movers. And with the many of cross-country moves I've made, I'm lucky I've held onto anything from my past, let alone my childhood. But somehow my parents managed to save my older sister Sue's Nancy Drew books for me and I've managed to hang onto them all this time. I have 14 yellow hardcovers from 1974 (which I've now learned is the official third version of Nancy), most with Sue's name written neatly on the inside of the front cover, some with pages covered in stickers that were prizes from cereal boxes, and one with a cracked spine where I had apparently started my own sleuthing by hiding notes inside it and taping it closed so craftily that no one would know, or so I thought.

I'm not the only one who can't let Nancy go, it seems. In Girl Sleuth, Melanie Rehak gives an excellent, thorough (while being completely riveting the entire time) review of how Nancy Drew came to be. The story wasn't completely new to me--I had read an article some time ago in The New Yorker about Edward Stratemeyer, the king of juvenile serial fiction. He originally came up with the concept for both the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, among other series. While Girl Sleuth begins with him, it quickly moves to the lives of the two main Nancy Drew authors: Mildred Wirt, a young writer in a small Iowa town, and his own daughter, Harriet. The book focuses on the interaction between the women and gives full, fascinating portraits of their lives. I wasn't expecting this book to do such a good job of placing these women inside their historical context (especially considering how timeless Nancy Drew stories were designed to be), but it does, and now I can see how important that is in understanding the amazing feats they accomplished (Harriet became C.E.O. of her father's publishing company by necessity when he died in 1930; Mildred took care of a brand new baby and an ailing husband while cranking out many books on tight deadlines, all without complaints).

I loved this book. For someone so steady, Nancy's certainly had a lot of changes over the years (though the books revisions still gave them a timeless feel and were not as drastic as the newer spinoff series that came about in the 1980s). I'm now interested in reading the original 1930-1940s versions of the books (they have been reissued by Applewood Books) to see what she was like in the original form. As a kid, I never cared that the Nancy I read wasn't up on the current lingo or popular culture. Books for pre-teens and teenage girls when I was growing up were all about serious things like bullemia, drug abuse, Divorce with a capital D, teenage runaways, you name it. I'd rather slip into River Heights where Ned was always polite and safe and Nancy was always smartly dressed and ready to get herself in and safely out of mischief.

Other good books: The Nancy Drew series (pre-1980, I don't think the ones after that should count).

Next book up: Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America by Amy Sutherland.

1 comment:

RSalamo said...

Nice review. I only read one or two Hardy Boys books when I was younger, but now I want to give both series another look.

And it looks each generation will have a different Nancy to remember...
Nancy Drew gets a manga overhaul