She drove a blue roadster. Solved serious mysteries. Had two best-forever friends. A charming boyfriend. Never seemed to have a major worry. And I wanted to be just like her. Nancy Drew, girl detective.
Looking back at childhood, it is not just one book then for me, but a series of books, ensemble written, rewritten and illustrated through the ages with a young woman whose physical image adapted to the times. How to describe the impact of reading Nancy Drew mysteries on one young girl from the Southside of Chicago who would get her weekly detective story fix either at the parochial school library or at the old, classic downtown library in Chicago Heights? Enormous.
Nancy Drew solved my dilemma of not wanting to play with dolls anymore. I had a few. Hey, I was born in the 1950s. Betsy Wetsy. Tiny Tears. Of course, Barbie, though that was a bit of a struggle since that doll and I shared a name. I admired her chicness and the intrigue of shoes that were no bigger than the nail on my pinky finger. But I can count on my hands the number of times I actually played "Barbie." Not plastic or ceramic, Nancy Drew could be whoever I wanted her to be because she existed most in my imagination. She was there for me as my reading habits quickly outgrew whatever was available at home, substantial as that was. My parents were book buyers. With six children, books in my home spanned the generations and gender territories. My mother and father never said there was a book in the house we could not read as I recall. Readers Digest Condensed Books. James Bond and Ian Fleming. Winston Churchill's series on World War II. If you could read the words, go and do so. So why love something as tame as Nancy Drew with so much to choose from?
If you Google or Wiki-search Nancy Drew, it is astounding how many studies, analyses and theories exist concerning these books. Pros and cons are rampant as to whether she is a good or bad literary mentor for young women. That is not at issue here for me.
I suppose because as the oldest girl in a household with four brothers and a younger sister eight years behind me, Nancy Drew could be my heroine, alone. I had the luxury of reading Tom Swift and of course, the Hardy Boys, and the Bobbsey Twins. But my brothers never, ever, got into the den of Drew with me, and my sister would inherit my Drew collection finding her own mystery way. Which made this reading choice my own adventure, a special niche in a household where watching television, for example, could be somewhat masculine-directed. Maybe that is also part of the answer. Nancy was independent, clear in her determination to tackle whatever problem presented itself. If Nancy Drew could do it then so could I. She never settled. Whether pulling secrets out of clocks or exploring those dark and hidden passages. I remember waiting anxiously for the opportunity in 1963 to purchase with my birthday money a copy of "The Moonstone Castle Mystery," and a year later, "The Clue of the Whistling Bagpipes." I can only liken that intense moment of anticipation to watching my own children wait for the latest Harry Potter.
And in the process of unraveling these mysteries with Miss Drew, I forged a new sense of problem-solving of my own. Then there was genre, the mystery genre. Without Nancy, no Mary Stewart. Without Nancy, no Georgette Heyer mysteries. Without Nancy, no Martha Grimes. At the most difficult times of my life, a good mystery brought me away from the struggle, the sorrow of everyday living and brought me to a place where the resolution was predictable, reasonable and entertaining. I owe a lot to Nancy Drew I think.