Did you do Nancy Drew?

Thea Devine here, wondering:   DID YOU DO NANCY DREW?

The Secret of Nancy Drew

When did you discover Nancy Drew? I think I was eight, and an aunt had given me The Quest of the Missing Map. The original edition, with the orange Nancy and her magnifying glass on the cover. And it just rocked my world. Almost immediately, I wanted to write one.

But in my day, Nancy Drew was locked out of the school library. Nancy wasn’t something you read for a book report. Nancy wasn’t literature; Nancy was — what? — trash reading.. A waste of time.

I recently reread the first six or seven books in the series: I’d bought the Applewood reprints of the so-called orange/blue Nancys, the Nancy of the frocks and roadsters and mysterious coincidences, and found them great fun and very much of their time. But did you know that there were earlier editions of Nancy Drew that did not have the orange Nancy and her magnifying glass on the cover?

The Clue of the Missing Nancy

I happened on one in a flea market in Maine — and bought it for ten dollars. I subsequently discovered that the first seven books were originally published with no orange Nancy, blank endpapers and four glossy illustrations inside. I decided to start collecting the orange/blue editions because I’d given my growing-up collection to a cousin, who, of course, passed them on. That was what you did. We weren’t thinking seminal influence back then.

Rereading Nancy Drew as an adult was a blast back to the innocence of childhood, and to the wonder of her adventures and the urgent desire to write a mystery just like Nancy’s. So every week the eight year me bought a pristine tablet with thin blue lines and a brand new pen, and huddled in my dad’s car which was always parked in front of our apartment building in Brooklyn, and started yet another story.

How many of you were influenced to be writers by reading Nancy Drew? Raise your hands. Did the Hidden Staircase scare you half to death? Did you look for clues in your mother’s jewelry box? Did you pretend to be Nancy when you played with your friends?

The Message of Nancy Drew

The impact of a free-spirited self-assured independent mystery-solving teenager with no mother, no constraints, a car of her own, a proud father who gives her free rein, and important mystery solving work to do cannot be underestimated culturally either. My generation saw that any girl — me — could be Nancy Drew, one way or another. Because of her, we became confident. knowledgeable, trustworthy, free to do what we needed to do, and adept at finding solutions. We wanted to be like her. As writers, we became her.

The Whispered Secret

I actually had a mystery in my family — an uncle who disappeared when he was very young, ran away, and never came back. And then, one day when my mom said, your father had an older brother who ran away. They never talk about him, my writer’s ears pricked up.

Talk about ominous and mysterious. Was that not a statement to send Nancy Drew off on a hunt for clues? Those words simmered until, many years later, Dad was reminiscing during a phone conversation, and I heard Mom in the background saying, tell her about your brother.

So Dad told me: This time, the Nancy in me reared up her head; how, I wondered (Nancy would wonder) did you obliterate a family member from its history? I devised a gothic scenario. A brother no one talks about. A jealous homicidal maniac of a brother. An overprotective mother. A conspiracy of secrets. A new bride who’s just a little too curious. Nancy would have been so proud.

The Quest of the Missing Uncle

It took many more years to get that story down. My aunts and uncles were very young when that brother left. The uncle I thought was my dad’s oldest brother was really his stepbrother: my grandfather had been a widower with two children when he married my grandmother..The family never talked about the runaway son. Secrets. Nancy would have reveled in them. Would she have dug deeper and found more truths even after there was no one left who remembered?

The gothic idea is still in play — but as with most ideas, things changed, I eventually reconfigured the whole thing into a wholly different story, and my long-missing unknown uncle morphed into a vampire in “The Darkest Heart” , which I wrote at my desk across from my bookcase which is stuffed once again with old beloved inspiring Nancy Drews.

Did you know people have written about the cultural impact of Nancy Drew? Did you read Nancy Drew? Did the mysteries make you to want to write? Or solve mysteries? Or uncover family secrets?

Thea Devine’s latest release is “The Darkest Heart.”  She’s currently working on the sequel.


9 thoughts on “Did you do Nancy Drew?”

  1. Thea, Thea…I LOVE Nancy Drew! I became a reader because of Nancy Drew and a writing, too. I have several of the blue/orange Nancy’s which belonged first to my aunt. She proudly wrote her name in the inside cover, then my mother (who is 15 years younger than my aunt) ruthlessly crossed Aunt Carol’s name out and wrote, “Thea’s book now”. Of course, I was equally ruthless and gleefully crossed mom’s name out and scribed “Jenny’s” on the inside cover. I also have 2 purple editions which are double books and I have 50ish of the yellow hard covers from the late 70’s. I went back and re-read several of them a couple of years ago, because I tried to model my series (2 books so far, The Cordovan Vault and The Peacock Tale) in part, on Nancy Drew. Thanks for writing about such a wonderful topic!

    1. Do try to read “Girl Sleuth” by Bobby Ann Mason. It’s all about our favorite girl sleuths, and as I was reading it, there “pings” of reocognition going off everywhere. There was something about Nancy in particular that seemed to grab me. Maybe it’s generational?


  2. Oh, my goodness, this brings back such memories. I read all fifty-two Nancy Drew books between third and fourth grade (that’s all there were then). I absolutely devoured them and I credit them for making me an avid reader. When my boys were young, we plowed through all the Hardy Boys mysteries too. I couldn’t get enough of the suspense, danger, excitement and comraderie that were between those pages.

    For years I wanted to be a detective and thought for sure I would come across some mystery or puzzle to solve with my friends as we played out in the woods down by the river. And yes, The Hidden Staircase scared the bejesus out of me as did the Secret in The Attic…loved that one. Oh, and Mockingbird Lane! I really have to go back and read them again. I recently turned my nine year-old nieces on to them and they loved them! Thanks Thea for the stroll down memory lane.

    1. Funny you mention your boys and the Hardy Boys. I got a nearly complete set of the 50’s editions — and guess what. It was too late. My guys were into other stuff and couldn’t have cared less.

      So — more fun reading for me!


  3. Great topic, Thea!
    I loved Nancy Drew in 4th grade. It was so long ago, I can’t even remember why I loved her, only that I did. (I won’t say how long ago 4th grade was, but even my kids don’t remember 4th grade now!)
    Stephanie Queen

    1. Hi Stephanie. My fourth grade was umpty years ago too. And my oldest is getting too old. Maybe that’s the attraction of going back to the Nancy’s for a bit — reliving a really important childhood memory.


  4. I LOVED Nancy Drew! And yes, I absolutely credit Nancy with inspiring me to write mystery stories. I didn’t have a relative who could pass them down to me, and our school and public libraries didn’t have them, but we did have a drug store in our little town that sold books. I remember using my babysitting money (I was much in demand as a babysitter, so I usually had plenty!) to buy one every week or so, or whenever a “new” one would come in. These were the editions with the lavender covers, and I think they’re still at my mother’s house (not for long — I think I’ll pick them up next time I’m there). The drug store stopped selling them before I got a full set 😦 The store also had sort of a Nancy Drew knockoff. The heroine’s name was Robin Kane. Sorry, Robin, but you never really grabbed me the way Nancy did. This post makes me want to reread the Nancys — right now!

  5. I still have my original Nancy Drew books (the ones with the yellow covers). And in grade school, my youngest went through a Hardy Boys phase. Thanks for bringing back pleasant memories, Thea!

    p.s. I’m totally jealous of your vintage editions!

  6. We didn’t have many Nancy Drews at our school library. We only had two. Trying to think what I read back in those days .. I know I plowed through our grade school library pretty fast. Back when I walked to school in the snow barefoot up hill both ways.- past dinosaurs.

    I think I was stuck with the Reader’s Digest and the daily newspaper out of Cincinnati. Mom kinda worried when I got all obsessed with a Cincinnati murder case when I was about 9 or 10.

    She probably wished my school had more of those Nancy Drew books. 🙂

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