A plucky "titian-haired" sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women's libbers) to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers' lives. Here, in a narrative with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancy's adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon? The brainchild of children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over as CEO after her father died. In this century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles--and Nancy's--in forging the modern American woman. (from BookDepository)
I’ve read a few Nancy Drew books before, but I’ve always found the idea of Nancy Drew more satisfying than the actual stories. Teenage super-sleuths are ALWAYS cool, and Nancy is cooler than most because she’s so deeply ingrained into the public consciousness. She’s like Star Wars or Indiana Jones or some other non-movie franchise I can’t think of right now: you may not know the details of her life, but you sure as heck know SOMETHING about her.
While I may not have known that much about Nancy before reading Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, I knew even LESS about the people who, uh, created her. The Nancy Drew books (along with other kidlit mystery series like the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins) are creations of a writing syndicate, a “book packager.” Basically, somebody comes up with the plot and characters of a series and then gets somebody else to write the books. (A modern version, for example, would be Paper Lantern Lit.)
As Nancy was effectively created by (at least) three people, Girl Sleuth covers a lot of ground while still keeping a tight focus on Nancy Drew and the creation of her character. It’s a good balance of personal history, social history, and literary history, though– I felt approx. five times smarter re:early 20th century kidlit mysteries but I ALSO wished I had some more in-depth biographies to read afterwards.
Mostly because the people who created Nancy Drew are every bit as memorable as Nancy herself! In particular Mildred Wirt Benson, who was a reporter back in a time when women weren’t really known for it, who kept ON reporting right up until she died, and who did so many amazing things that I only WISH I was 10% as cool as she was. So yeah, I definitely want more in-depth stuff.
However! That’s not to say that Girl Sleuth sucked in any way. It’s terrifically interesting, made me want to actually read the Nancy Drew books (the original versions, AND the Nancy Drew Files which now that I think about it is what I probably read as a kid), and I can’t recommend it enough for anyone who is even a little bit curious about Nancy and the women (people) who created her.
Read: August 1-3, 2013