It’s hard to believe that the Nancy Drew mystery series has been around for more than 80 years enchanting girls since 1930 when it was first published by Grosset and Dunlap. The author, Carolyn Keene, never existed, as “she” was the pen name for numerous ghostwriters over the years. The original series depicted Nancy carrying a gun and treating the family housekeeper Hannah Gruen in a politically incorrect manner, but this version was revised in 1959, erasing the rough edges. Many permutations of the story have evolved over time as technology and culture changed, and there are now graphic novels, TV shows, video games and even a series of books starring a younger elementary school age Nancy. Over 80 million books in the series of 56 have sold, proving the durability of this endearing character.
I grew up as an Army brat, traveling from place to place, usually in two year stints. Atlanta was home base, as my grandmother and other close relatives were there. We lived in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood in the 50’s, back when it was a middle class Norman Rockwell place to grow up. The children in the area would band together, rollerskating, making up games to play, and, on rainy days, reading on the screened-in side porch. One of my many happy memories of living there was riding the Virginia-McLynn bus to the downtown Rich’s Department Store and purchasing the latest Nancy Drew mystery with money received in my birthday cards. I was trusted to ride the bus myself, and I felt so grown up and independent!
What a wonderful role model Nancy was—a young woman allowed to explore and make her own decisions. Although she had the continuous and enthusiastic support of her girlfriends Bess and George (yes, a girl), Nancy was always the one to plunge ahead and take charge of situations. As I read the most current adventure, I would imagine myself at the forefront, getting into all kinds of mischief—daring to forge ahead and discover wondrous and sometimes scary things. Maybe Nancy planted the seeds of independence in me, helping a somewhat awkward adolescent realize her potential in the years to come. Role models such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor have cited Nancy Drew as a source of inspiration early in their lives.
My love of the series has come full circle in my family, as my daughter, Lauren, and granddaughter, Lily, are both avid fans. When I recently quizzed Lauren about her remembrances of Nancy, she said the main thing she loved was that “Nancy was allowed such freedom and had a father that completely trusted her to make her own decisions.” Lily, who is 10, said: “I liked how Nancy wasn’t afraid of anything and that she had such good friends and helped people.” This is a special sharing experience with the three of us, and hopefully, my great-granddaughter will be drawn in as well! Nancy Drew continues to reach across the generations with her can-do spirit and spunk—maybe I will go back and re-read them all—it’s been awhile, and who can’t use a refresher course in spunk?
Do you have a favorite title in the series and why is it your favorite?
Who gave you your first one?