When I think of summer, I think of long hot days, writing more because I always write more during the summer, sticky thighs, popsicles, and sitting in an air-conditioned movie theater. I think of peaches, catching up on my soaps, and I think of books.
Like many people, I read more during the summer. I don't know why. Now that I have a backyard, one of my favorite things to do is sit with a beverage and read when it gets cool. It reminds me of when I was a kid. I also remember a summer that, to use a clichéd phrase, a summer that changed my life.
It was 1982. Ten years old and I wore coke bottle glasses, wore my hair mullet style, and I just survived another year in school. I managed to do okay in everything except math. I read a lot of books for school, but the teachers always forgot to put the stars near my name for how many books I read. I was going to a resource class at another school. I can see me in my uniform, scared of all the public school kids, wishing I were normal like everyone else and not have problems with math and my handwriting. That summer all I wanted to do was read, watching Guiding Light, and go to Washington to see my mom's best friend Missy.
I decided that summer I wanted to start reading Nancy Drews. I just finished Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself by Judy Blume and Sally read Nancy Drews all the time. I decided I wanted to read them too. I went to the library and found the books under K for Keene. The bright yellow covers caught my eye right away and I checked out two right away.
In case you don't know about Nancy Drew, let me give you some info:
Nancy lives in River Heights with her dad and their housekeeper, Hannah Gruen. Nancy's mom died when she was three years old. They never talk about Mrs. Drew. Now I wonder if she really died or maybe she took off with some guy and Mr. Drew never wanted to talk about it.
Nancy has two best friends, Bess and George. With George, some people have wondered aloud if George was a lesbian, because she was "athletic" and had a boy's name. I have no idea if George is gay or not, but if she is, come on out, George! Maybe we can fix you up with Cherry Ames or Judy Bolton!
Nancy had a "special" friend named Ned Nickerson. Ned and Nancy went out but let's face it, it wasn't a relationship based on passion. I remember in one of the Anastasia books Anastasia would get irritated because Nancy and Ned didn't have sex, and even kiss. I knew how Anastasia felt. I always wanted to say to Nancy: "Come on, Nance! Kissing Ned doesn't mean you don't have to give up being a detective! It just means you have some excitement in your life!"
All police officers trust Nancy. Yes, she's a young girl, but no matter what, they will rely on her expertise. Just trust me on this.
Nancy always solves the crime at the last chapter. All is happy in her world, and there's a plug for the next book in the last sentences.
Got the formula? Good.
That summer the Go-Go's played all the time, everyone was saying like Oh my God! Totally, man! I wore a red and white striped dress every day and sandals. My mother and I were the first people to see ET at the Century Dome. My days were spent at the park pool and playing with my cousin. In addition, I read Nancy Drews.
My hot hands were all over the yellow covers. I think I loved the excitement of it. Maybe it was formulaic, but I needed the formula. I needed to know that Nancy could do anything.
I tried to picture Carolyn Keene. I could picture her during the fifties; she wore her hair in a flip and wore a gray suit with white gloves. I pictured her walking in New York City meeting her editor and discussing the new book. Little did I know that mostly Harriet Stratmeyer and Mildred Wirt Benson wrote the books. Stratmeyer's father started a book syndicate that produced the Hardy Boys, Bobsey twins, and Honey Bunch. He assigned Benson to write the books and she did it with relish. Stratmeyer wrote many of the books as well and always made sure, than Nancy was wholesome and saved the day. My teacher Kathryn Reiss once told me that she was telling someone that Carolyn Keene didn't exist and he looked at her and said: "That's like hearing Santa Claus doesn't exist."
Bonita Granville (who was considered for the part of Scarlett O'Hara) and last year by Emma Roberts have played Nancy in movies. On television, Pamela Sue Martin played Nancy. Neither movies were hits because I think girls like to visualize their own version of Nancy, and not have someone else do it for them.
There is one Nancy moment I remember so clearly: it's Sunday and I'm reading a Nancy Drew. It's not too hot and there was a Coke by my chair, the ice clinking. It suddenly it me as I read, I want to do this. I want to write stories like Carolyn Keene. I put the book down, looking up at the blue sky. I want to write.
I started to write the adventures of Skye Scarsborough, girl detective. I was going to get it published in a year and be famous. It wouldn't matter if I had bad handwriting, I couldn't do math, or that my parents were divorced. My teachers would feel bad that even though I reminded them and reminded them, they forgot to put stars near my name on the book list. I would be a famous writer.
Well, that didn't happen. However, that summer of 1982 a seed was implanted in me. It started to grow. It grew more that fall when I read Harriet the Spy. I would write and write and write. I wrote bad stuff, I wrote good stuff. I filled up notebook after notebook. I was published in lit journals and won prizes. Some years nothing would happen. Yet I still wrote.
Two years ago, I started a mystery about a girl who solves crimes. I hope it can become a series. Hallie Kate Peterson is not Nancy, but she's someone I would've liked to read about. She has learning disabilities and does the best she can. Even though I am nowhere near done with the first book about her, I hope others will like her as well.
Nancy's still around. Around my house there's Nancy Drew cover postcards all over the house to remind me why I became a writer. In my book Hallie Kate has two parakeets. They are named Bess and George.
Nancy Drew books still have the bright yellow covers, and she's now in graphic novels and video games. I look at her with her red hair, solving a mystery and think thanks lady. You showed me that I didn't have to accept my circumstances and that I could create stories of my own. You look good for seventy-eight. Go hang out with Bess and George. Ride in your blue roadster. For God's sakes, kiss Ned. Don't stop solving crimes. Don't stop looking for your new adventure. Don't stop inspiring girls.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries