Friday, September 27, 2013

I Re-Read The First Five Nancy Drews and Lived To Talk About It

You guys. These books are THE WORST.

"What?!" I hear you interrobanging, your gleeful childhood memories protesting with aplomb. "These books were the AMAZING AND PERFECT AND I WILL CUT YOU!"

Well, your childhood memories are double wrong with knobs. The characters have the depth of a puddle drying in the Texas sun. The mysteries have plot holes the size of a black hole, one that sucks up all logic and realism. The dialogue is ridiculous, the decisions of the characters, bizarre. Then there's the thinly-veiled snobbish classism-most of the villains are from the lower classes, as evidenced by their over-the-top rudeness to Nancy when they're first introduced.

 Not to mention their goofy dialects, and their lack of servants.

Now, I don't have ridiculously high expectations of middle-grade books. Works for children should be understandable- age-appropriate, free of bad words and too much violence. But there are too many excellent children's books out there that manage deep and well-drawn characters, dialogue that isn't clunky, and tight plots. These books, cobbled together by God-only-knows-which ghost writers all posing as Carolyn Keene, are laughably bad. I didn't stop after the first one or two because at that point I was hate-reading. Unstoppable momentum. I carried on.

You're still not believing me, I can tell. So let's take a look-see at some horribleness taken straight out of book four, The Secret of Shadow Ranch, from literally the first and second page. I'll bracket in my hate-reading-thoughts as we go:

"'Are we glad to see you!' remarked [an exclamation isn't a remark, dumb ass] George Fayne, an attractive tomboyish girl with short dark hair. She glanced anxiously around the crowded waiting room in the Phoenix air terminal. 'Let's go where we can talk.' [you're talking right now, dammit]

Nancy looked at the cousins with keen blue eyes. 'What's the matter? Is something wrong?' [no, people just demand to speak with you in private in an airport as soon as you land because they want to talk about the weather UGH WHY ARE YOU SUCH A DIPSHIT]

Bess bit her lip [of course she did], then burst out, 'Oh, Nancy, we can't stay! We all have to go home tomorrow!'

'But why?' asked Nancy, astonished. 

'Because there's a mystery at the ranch,' [Just right there on page one, huh? No foreplay whatsoever] George said bluntly, 'and Uncle Ed thinks it's not safe for us to be here [and no one thought to call you and let you know shit was falling apart BEFORE you got on the fucking plane].'

Bess put in, 'But, Nancy, if you could convince Uncle Ed you can solve the case, maybe he'd let us stay [YES THE OPINION OF AN 18 YEAR OLD GIRL WHO JUST ARRIVED AND HAS NO CLUE WHAT IS GOING ON WILL TOTALLY INFLUENCE THE DECISION MAKING OF A RANCHER WHOSE SHIT IS BEING DESTROYED]. However [of FFS], I'm not so sure I want to. It's-it's really pretty frightening.'

'I can't wait to hear what the mystery is,' Nancy said excitedly [because these characters have no common sense]."

I think I've nailed the formula. Here we go:

1. Nancy combs her titian hair and eats a fruit salad.
2. Nancy's friend/cousin/neighbor calls her because she's lost a jewel/person/someone is vandalizing her property.
3. Nancy tells her Dad she's going to investigate a situation that will probably involve hardened criminals, asks him not to call the cops, hugs her housekeeper, locks her room and her car.
4. Nancy's room and car are broken into. Nancy investigates her mystery, in between sunbathing/swimming/dancing/eating/shopping.
5. Someone is rude to Nancy. This is the bad guy. 
6. Nancy gets too close. The bad guy tries to kill her. No one thinks to call professionals to catch this person. All the adults involved give Nancy permission to continue tracking down violent criminals who want her dead after little to no persuasion.
7. Nancy gets too close (more, again). The bad guy ties her up and confesses all in order to impress Nancy.
8. Nancy is saved by her father/housekeeper/friend. Cops arrive (who called the cops, no one here is ever calling the cops, WTF is going on), arrest rude criminal. 
9. Nancy combs her titian hair, eats another fruit salad. 

The End.


  1. I am SO with you on this one. Even back when ND was age appropriate for me I hated her. Well, no. Not precisely. I thought she was insipid. I never read more than the first book. I decided that of all the girl-mystery-series at my fingertips back in the day (so, 3?) that Trixie Belden was my jam. I'd definitely cut you if you insult Trixie. She was a tomboy, you know. With short, sandy curls that were the polar opposite of titian hair.

  2. Isn't there also an obligatory mention of how tomboyish George is just about every time she's on page? (That dancing gif is magical, I think I watched it for about 5 minutes unable to look away.)

  3. I love you for this post. I was OBSESSED with ND when I was a kid, but I have never read one since because I just knew they'd be awful. I still remember odd things, but no actual plots. A bird sanctuary was in one? And one where the bad guy tied Nancy up and then released a load of black widow spiders in the room, which I have to admit is quite ingenious. That's not a whole lot of memories for a shelf full of books I apparently adored, is it?

    I think possibly you should use your formula to resurrect Nancy and write another 200 novels. You'd make a FORTUNE.

    PARIIIIIIIS! If I'd seen GG as a teenager, she'd probably have been my spirit animal.

  4. "Hate reading"! That's what it's called! I've done it and thought there couldn't be anyone else grumpy enough to keep reading just to find fault. Glad I'm not alone!

  5. No! I refuse to believe that these books weren't perfect. I'm going to go comb my titian hair now. Goodbye.

  6. I, for one, really enjoyed the Nancy Drew books (and all similar ones like Hardy Boys and Dana Girls)...but I haven't tried reading them since middle school.

    The one book that did really irk me? Nancy Drew Super-Mystery #1. Bess and George are, for once, the ones solving the mystery, because Nancy is missing. Why, as it is eventually discovered, is Nancy missing? Because she's locked herself in a frickin' closet. Worst. Mystery. Ever.

  7. I read a ton of these as a kid. Similar to what others have said above, I wouldn't touch them now. I remember Nancy had a convertible and a boyfriend named Ned. I remember thinking how much snazzier the "Nancy Drew Files" paperbacks looked compared to the older books (I had such bad taste!).

  8. I am very grateful that I read this post before picking up my first Nancy Drew book ever at the ripe age of 29 (didn't read them as a kid because different culture etc.), because I know now I'd be just stuck hate-reading at least ten of them before giving up.

    But one never knows. I just might.

  9. If you have not already, you need to get ahold of the Hark A Vagrant webcomics about Nancy Drew.

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  11. Not surprised at all. Discovering more and more everything I loved as a kid was just awful.

  12. i LOVED Nancy Drew with a passion as a young kid (elementary school years), and i picked up one of the books a couple of years ago for a quick jaunt down memory lane. it was un-readable, horrible. i didn't get past the first chapter.

    that being said, i don't think i would therefore banish Nancy Drew from a here-to-fore-non-existent-and-potential-future-child-of-mine's reading list. i seriously enjoyed those novels when i was younger, and i still have some books that were passed down from my Dad's generation of young mystery readers in the family, so i'd still encourage a kid to read them if they find them enjoyable.

  13. I just remembered that there's a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mash-up series (obviously not by the syndicate that brought us all the other books) that centers around the characters being gay. I haven't read the books, so I'm unsure as to whether this would turn out to be hilarious or just the world's worst idea.

    Ah, there's actually two Nancy Clue and Cherry Aimless books and one Nancy Clue and Hardly Boys. The same author has also written two Jane Bond parodies.

  14. Okay, I see everything you're saying with this. But have you ever picked up any of the ORIGINAL Nancy Drew Mystery Stories? The ones that began being published in 1929? In 1950, Edward Stratemeyer's daughter took over his business and one of her first orders of business were to rewrite most of the 50 Nancy Drew books. Some of the rewrites were just to take out some racial slurs that weren't as PC come 1950 but most of them dumbed down the writing and made Nancy into a little pussy bitch. OG Nancy is a bad ass, she thinks for herself and is spunky and actually gets into real harrowing situations. Granted, still children's books, but let me tell you - pre 1950 children's books are way superior (WAYbetter writing, better plot, etc). You want to get your hands on a blue Nancy Drew book from before the rewrites, and maybe you'll still have the same opinion, but maybe not.

  15. I recently read my first (and only) Nancy Drew book- The Witch Tree Symbol for my challenge. I think it's tough to read something like Nancy Drew as an adult if you didn't read it as a child. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing. And without it... I was just sitting there wanting to gouge my eyeballs out after reading sentences like "Golly gee Nancy... you sure did work hard on solving that mystery case!"

  16. The only thing I ever took away from the ND books was my own amazement that their mail got delivered at breakfast time. To me, that was the weirdest thing ever.

  17. So you know how Nancy darling gets conked on the head and blacks out in almost every single book? Yeah, if that were to happen to somebody in real life they would definitely suffer mental disability or even death from all those concussions within a relatively short time period. The NFL would have a field day with Nancy Drew books...

  18. They're horrendous, but I recall being eight or so and having a couple of brief, blissful weeks where I read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books en masse. I refuse to look at them now because I don't want to destroy that sense of sepia-tone sweet nostalgia.