I know I’m not the only one with fond memories of racing through Nancy Drew mysteries as a young reader. I always loved mysteries as a kid, and still do as an adult, but I now recognize the Nancy Drew series as my introduction to cozy mysteries, which then led to my love of Murder She Wrote. It can be a dangerous thing revisiting child loves as an adult, because inevitably these joys rarely hold up decades later. Still, I chose a few Nancy Drew mysteries at random to dive into during my most recent vacation, and despite my annoyance with the outdated and oftentimes offensive gender stereotypes that pop up throughout these novels, I enjoyed that satisfaction of solving the mystery alongside the adventurous detective that accompanied me through my childhood reading. I’ve read three of the 64 books in the series, and offered a mini-review of each below. If you’ve revisited a beloved childhood book as an adult, please let me know how it went in the comments section!
The Mystery at Lilac Inn – #4
The Mystery at Lilac Inn begins with Nancy and a friend toppling into the river while canoeing to the Lilac Inn, set to open in a few months. Unconcerned by their accident, they swim to shore and dry off at the inn, which is owned by a friend of theirs. Once there they learn of some strange occurrences, including sightings of a ghastly female figure and tools going missing. I was surprised at the resolution to this mystery, it involves a homemade submarine (!), and the criminal’s motivations run much deeper than originally suggested. The use of red herrings is also admirable, I was thrown off the scent more often than not and when the culprit(s) were finally revealed, I didn’t anticipate the extent of their confessions that roll out over a few chapters. I think that’s one thing that I really appreciated as both as child and adult reader; there is nothing left unexplained in these novels!
The Mystery of the Ivory Charm – #13
Keeping in mind these books were written in the 1930s, one must suspend their modern-day perspective of cultural sensitivity when reading this series. The Mystery of the Ivory Charm centers around a young East Indian boy named Rishi who Nancy rescues from a circus where he is clearly being mistreated by his guardian. Nancy is adamant that he must be taken care of properly, so a tutor is hired to continue his education while they figure out what to do with him. Unfortunately there are a few nefarious characters who want to take advantage of Rishi and his secret past, and he is kidnapped not once, but twice from Nancy’s care. Keep in mind this book is meant for children, so we must also suspend our disbelief! Aside from these questionable plot turns and the outright exoticizing and othering of Rishi’s culture, this story was fairly engrossing. Its suggestion of mysticism brings that supernatural element that piqued my interest as a child, and continues to keep me captivated as an adult.
This was also the first time I had been re-introduced to Nancy’s friends George and Bess, who came to her rescue more than once during her adventures. George is the brave one, game for just about any undertaking Nancy suggests, while Bess prefers to tag along and hang back when things get dangerous. I have fond memories of meeting these two girls in many books in the series, but I never noticed until now, how Bess was described as “slightly overweight” (p. 3). Overweight compared to what? Why is this even relevant? How come men were never described in relation to their appearance? I prepared myself for this kind of sexist language as I cracked open these books knowing they were written generations ago, but it still irks me when I come across things like this.
The Clue in the Jewel Box – #20
Lastly, The Clue in the Jewel Box continued to highlight Drew’s uncanny ability to correctly judge a person’s character after just having met them, while also focusing on her never-ending search for puzzles and problems to solve. In this installment Nancy has befriended a queen-in-hiding with an impressive set of jewels and figurines left over from her days of royal court. She asks Nancy to help her find her long-lost grandson who was kidnapped as a child, and as we know, Nancy loves a good challenge, so she eagerly takes up the case.
At this point in the series, Ned and Nancy are declared to be “friends of long standing. They enjoyed the same things and frequently went together to parties” (p. 67). If my recollection is correct, they eventually become boyfriend and girlfriend, but of course things move at a snail’s pace because showing overt romantic feelings is considered un-lady-like, and demonstrating fine morals seems to be one of the most important messages in these books. I could go on and analyze the fraught relationship these plots have with labelling those who are ‘good’ and those who are ‘bad’. You can only be one or the other in Nancy Drew’s world. And although the adult me rolls my eyes at this simplification, it is no doubt one of the reasons I enjoyed it as a child. Don’t we all wish things were this easy? I certainly appreciated this trip down memory lane, but I’m also happy to leave Nancy Drew in the past so I can tackle the more realistic books of today.
Interesting. Never been a Nancy Drew Fan but I did revisit a few childhood favourites when reading books to my son. Then I tried to encourage him to go for the Just William books and oh just not easy to read or feel kinship with! There must be a fancy lately to go and re-read books from your youth – I read about it elsewhere – and why not eh!
exactly-why not! It was a cozy feeling 🙂
I think you should aim for a warm and fuzzy (or cosy) feeling when diving into a good book. Occasionally I read slightly scary suspense books (not really scary, can’t handle too much suspense or gore on the page!) and I have to judge whether I can read them before I go to sleep or if they’ll give me nightmares. I love a chapter or two of a book last thing at night, and again first thing in the morning too with a first cup of coffee.
me too! That’s how I read, in the morning, and at night. I oftentimes find myself reading scary stuff right before bed, but as long as I haven’t had any chocolate before bed too, I don’t get nightmares haha
I reread one of these as an adult some years back and was like Wow, this is bad! 😂 But as a child I was obsessed with them. And they definitely helped ignite my love of mysteries. Yes, it’s sad how Bess’s main defining characteristic is being chubby, ugh!
haha yah, I definitely remember loving them as a child, but they definitely didn’t have the same appeal as an adult LOL
I think I read one whole Nancy Drew when I was a girl, and I was so confused….which continues to this day because I get SO LOST when I read mysteries. I guess I feel like I don’t “get” something, meaning I’m not smart, but in reality we’re not supposed to know what’s happening yet. That line between being dense and being in the dark is never clear to me when I read a mystery, so I avoid them.
I’ll bet the part about Bee being chubby mentions something like how she could stand to lose five pounds. Back in those days, every five pounds here and there meant a lot to folks.
I know exactly what you mean about being confused, but it’s funny, maybe it’s becuase I read too quickly, but half the time I never know what’s going on in a book, and I keep going anyway with the unwarranted confidance that it will all becomes clear in the next chapter, etc. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t LOL
I’ve never read Nancy Drew and now I’m wondering if that’s why I’m not a mystery reader today. I totally get the appeal of returning to childhood favourites though. Currently re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series with my girls and it feels like visiting an old friend, even though there are definitely parts that have not aged well.
Karissa, I’ve re-read Anne at various times in my life. Also visited PEI (from UK) specifically to see where Anne lived. I cried whilst visiting Silver Bush (L M Montgomery’s aunt’s house, still made up in Victorian style). It was like walking into Green Gables.
Oh, I would love to see that! I love that it has the same name as Pat’s beloved house in Pat of Silver Bush. I live on the opposite coast in Canada so I haven’t yet made it to PEI but it’s definitely somewhere I hope to visit.
I remember reading Nancy Drew as a child, but cannot remember anything of the stories. I also read The Bobbsey Twins and the Happy Hollisters, again remembering very little, except that in the Bobbsey Twins the girls were always watching the boys do more interesting things. What I recall much more clearly is Enid Blyton’s books, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven and the Adventure stories. George of the Famous Five was a complete tomboy, refusing to be treated as a girl. Enid Blyton’s school stories, Mallory Towers and St Clare’s, and the Naughtiest Girl in the School, were also about sports mad tomboys. I and my husband have read most of Enid Blyton to our own children (now grown up) and are now reading them to our grandchildren. They don’t write them like that anymore! Do you know Enid Blyton?
I have also revisited the Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent Dyer, and indeed I have a friend who writes ‘extra’ Chalet School boys, very much in keeping with the original btw. Do you know these? There is a Facebook Group for (inevitably older) women to post about the Chalet School. My mother also read the Chalet School. I remember, as a child, enjoying having that link with her?
Gosh I haven’t heard of any of these, but I appreciate you bringing them up in this thread, it’s always nice to hear about others reminisining about books from their childhood-and how wonderful that you read them to your grandkids!!!!
I read all of these growing up too, although I never found complete series, just read whatever I could find. My faves were the Famous Five. I think there has been an interesting biography of Enid Blyton published in recent years too. She was so prolific, and I found it fascinating hearing about how she churned out the stories. But there are so many brilliant stories being published today that have girls like George at the heart of their adventures, without any of them having to stop and make tea for the boys LOL…I hope you’re finding some of those for your grandkids too.
I’ve never read a biography of Enid Blyton. Do you have a title for the one you read? Apparently she was much loved by one daughter and hated by the other. I always felt Enid had a lovely motherly face.
I think this is the first time I remember you rereading, Anne: what happened?! 😀 Okay, I need details…you say you chose them randomly. But, like, how, do you have all 63 and you just shut your eyes and waved your index finger in the direction of the shelves? I need to know. LOL You know I’m always rereading books from my childhood, so how to pick…hmmm, earlier this summer I found a copy of “The Cat from Outer Space” a novelization of a Disney Film I adored as a girl, in a neighbourhood Little Free Library, and I enjoyed leafing through that one.
well essentially, I was in the book bank of our Little Red Reading House for Calgary Reads, and we get a TON of these Nancy Drew books donated to us, so I just randomly picked three from the big tub we store them in, and took them home 🙂
I am like you I’m revisiting my own Nancy drew books I received as a 8 to 11year old at that time I didn’t fully appreciate them now I’m enjoying them I’ve even complete my collection of the books that were released in Britain
Glad you’re enjoying the trip back in time! Thank you for visiting my blog 🙂
I loved the Nancy Drew books as a child and saved my hardcovers. Some books hold up better than others, obviously. I recommend “The Crooked Bannister” and “Password to Larkspur Lane” as two standouts. The latter has a part where Nancy is in trouble, trapped, alone, and begins to doubt herself and despair. The way she overcomes her fear and demonstrates resourcefulness is excellent.
Oh that sounds like a good one – thank you for the recommendations!
I have always loved ND,in fact I rereread(😍) several series such as the Dana Girls, Kay Tracey, Penny Parker, etc. all written by Mildred Wirt. The foremost reason for reading, especially ND, is the positive representation of the characters, something very much NOT in abundance back in the 1930’s.
yes very good point!