Growing up, I was always a voracious reader. Yet there was a pivotal moment in my reading journey that I clearly remember in elementary school. My mom cam home from work one day and gave me my first Nancy Drew book ever, The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion. That moment fostered a long love for Nancy Drew mysteries that I still have to this day. After that fateful day, I would pester my parents every few weeks, begging them to take me to Costco, where the book section sold the original Nancy Drew yellow hardbacks in sets of 6 for $12 ($2 per book! Can you imagine? How cheap books were back in the ’90s compared to nowadays). I became a bit of an ND snob, only reading the yellow hardbacks rather than the more modern ND books that had pink covers, Nancy with long strawberry blonde hair, and a cell phone (she seemed out of place compared to retro Nancy). I spent so many summers whiling away the days with my Nancy Drew books, and they have a special shelf on my bookshelf, yellow spines still proudly on display today, though I admit I haven’t picked one up in years. So I was astounded when I was at Target the other day (perusing the YA book section, as usual) and came across Nancy Drew books. These were not the “modernized” re-tellings, but rather the original stories with gorgeous, updated covers that had fun “Gatsby-esque” illustrations. I immediately fell in love with them, and it took so much self-restraint not to buy them. Yet I was so excited that Nancy is continuing to be prevalent in young reader’s book selections today, and it got me thinking about how Nancy impacted me as a reader growing up.
Interestingly enough, Carolyn Keene, the author always credited on the covers of Nancy Drew books, is actually a pseudonym that’s been used by a series of writers over the past century. Nancy Drew was originally created Edward Stratemeyer, who also created The Hardy Boys series (which explains their similar publishing styles). The first four books were published in the 1930s to immediate success. Retro Nancy is definitely reflective of her times, as she it is always noted that she is attractive, well-mannered, connected to her home life, and has a steady boyfriend. Yet despite these traits that modeled a perfect domestic image, Nancy also holds very progressive traits and ideals for her time: she’s always driving herself around in her blue convertible, she enlists the help of female friends Bess and George while often leaving Ned at home in the background, she speaks intelligently with her lawyer father about his cases and clues during her investigations, and she above all loves to solve mysteries, and chooses to do so without anyone’s permission. Yes, I admit that Nancy is no doubt an example of white privilege, as she is young, wealthy, attractive, smart, and evidently has the funds to run all over the world and solve crimes. Some elements of the 1930s canon have indeed been changed in reprinted editions (Nancy is 18 instead of 16, she sees her housekeeper as more of a mother figure rather than a servant, she looses her mom at different ages, etc). But I think that Nancy was a really progressive creation for her time, and that she’s been solidified in pop culture as an empowering figure.
Nancy Takes Technology: The Video Games
Long after I no longer picked up Nancy Drew books regularly, I continued to stay connected to the series through the PC/Mac Games. Made by Her Interactive, the games are a testament for the company’s comcommitment to making engaging, intellectual, and creative games for girls of all ages (though they certainly can be enjoyed by guys as well!) and have really created a great space in the gaming world for girls, who are often times excluded or represented disrespectfully in the video game world. I own every game they have made since 1998 (and they’re up to #30 and show no signs of slowing down) and they are so much fun. Honestly, I was never a huge video game player, but these games are amazing, as they let you delve into the world of the books as Nancy (you play as her, so you never see her face) and while some of the mysteries are original concepts, others are based directly on some of the novels (The Secret of Shadow Ranch, for instance). Her Interactive has also done a great job keeping the integrity of the canon, and has even dared to expand upon it (The Silent Spy reveals the past of Kate Drew, Nancy’s mother, which was always left ambiguous in the books). And let me tell you, these games require critical thinking and are not “girly” in the least, and some are downright terrifying (if you’re rather faint of heart, like me).
So after strolling into Target on the 4th of July and happening across the newly released Nancy Drew hardbacks, I’m relieved to see that a series that was so important to my childhood, to my mother’s childhood, is still easily accessible to readers today. Nancy taught me that taking charge and being independent, smart, and persistent was cool, and it’s a message that I hope is still being passed on to my daughter one day.
Did you grow up reading Nancy Drew? Do you think she’s an independent role model or a passive one? Do you think she deserves her place in pop culture? Let me know in the comments!