My blog partner Catriona McPherson has stated as one of her reading goals for this new year an intention to read a Nancy Drew book. As a fan of Nancy for over forty years now, I definitely encourage her in this goal. The first mystery I ever read was a Nancy Drew book, The Secret of Shadow Ranch. It was the revised version from the 1960s, the one with a picture of Nancy on a horse in the foreground with a ghost horse in the background.
That story -- probably my favorite among the revised versions of the books first published between 1930 and the mid-1950s -- hooked me on mysteries, and I've never looked back. I devoured every Nancy Drew book I could find, and it wasn't long before I got hooked on collecting them. I have a collection of Nancy and the other juvenile mystery series that fills several bookshelves in my bedroom.
For a boy growing up on a farm in Mississippi, these books were a ticket to adventure. I could share vicariously in the excitement of solving mysteries and traveling to exotic places without worrying about getting bashed on the head (just how many head injuries did Nancy have?) or being tied up and left to an uncertain fate (except that I always knew Nancy would survive).
Mildred Wirt Benson, the writer who wrote many of the original Nancy Drew books, has often been criticized for her writing style, and librarians of yesteryear wouldn't have the books on the library shelves because they weren't quality literature. Nancy has been criticized as being too perfect, too flip, and too several-other-things. But for 1930, when Nancy first appeared, she was something of a revolutionary. Here was a girl, in a highly patriarchal society, who got out there and did things just as dangerous as what the boys were doing.
Several generations of girls (and boys, for that matter) have learned, thanks to Nancy, that they can be heroes too. They too can help others, plunge into adventures, and come out on the other side triumphant. Alongside Nancy were a number of other plucky heroines: Judy Bolton, Louise and Jean Dana, Cherry Ames, Beverly Gray, Vicki Barr, and Trixie Belden. I read and loved them all. Over the years I have also learned a lot about the history of these books and their authors. They helped inspire the story for my upcoming book, The Silence of the Library, due to be released on January 28th. I had a lot of fun writing this book, and I even created a 1930s juvenile mystery heroine of my own, Veronica Thane. The book contains excerpts from one of Veronica's adventures, and I had even more fun writing those in the style of the stories of the time. It is my loving tribute to the writers and the characters who filled my childhood and adolescence with thrills and adventure.