The Books That Shape Us: Nancy Drew

Secret of the Old ClockFrom time to time, Bas Bleu’s editors will share with you some of the books that have had a profound impact on our lives. They won’t necessarily be grand literary classics or hard-hitting political tomes. They will be books that have stayed with us over the years and shaped who we are. If you’d like to share a significant title from your own life, feel free to do so in the comments section below.

I don’t remember precisely who introduced me to Nancy Drew. Chances are good it was my grandmother Frances, if only because I remember her keeping copies of the original Nancy Drew hardcovers in the room my sister and I shared when we visited her, books she read aloud to me at bedtime. Gran was not an avid reader (unless you count the local newspaper), but she loved that I was. When her sister-in-law, my great-aunt, asked what books she should send me for Christmas, Gran told her, “Nancy Drew.”

I do remember that I never understood why my friends spent their time reading books like The Baby-sitters Club and Sweet Valley High and Little Women (sorry, folks). Nothing ever seemed to happen in those books. Why read about babysitting and boys and knitting (or whatever Little Women was about) when there were cases to solve, secrets to uncover, and haunted mansions to explore? Nancy’s life was so exciting! She was always visiting interesting places and meeting fascinating people—almost all of whom were highly suspicious. She wasn’t afraid of anything…plus she could pick locks. And Nancy always won the day, triumphing over the bad guys with a little help from her friends, George and Bess.

Case FilesBy the time I was halfway through elementary school, the iconic yellow-spined hardcovers we all know and love gave way to a new generation of Nancy Drew mysteries: The Nancy Drew Files. These contemporary stories were a little darker, a little more psychologically nuanced. Nancy came closer to death than ever before, and it wasn’t unusual for supporting characters to be killed off. Despite never aging, Nancy was growing up…and so was I. But all the changes didn’t slow her down or distract her from her purpose in life: solving crimes.

As the years passed and my life changed, Nancy was always there. No matter how complicated the case, she always solved it. She was a force to be reckoned with, a girl not much older than I was who was smart and brave and unfailingly capable. A girl who didn’t need to be rescued by men (though Ned and her dad were helpful on occasion) and who never assumed someone else would fix the problem. And while I knew enough to separate fantasy from reality, that constancy meant something to me. She was predictable when my emotions were not. She was reassuring when life was not. When I was nine and I learned that the man who’d been like a second father to me had died, I climbed back into bed with my Nancy Drew mystery. And for a few hours, the grief ebbed, pushed to the periphery by the girl detective and the knowledge that, somehow, Nancy would make everything safe again.

Nancy Drew silhouetteOver time, my literary appetites broadened. School reading assignments became more demanding and time-consuming. But while it may have been years since I cracked the spine of a Nancy Drew mystery, she still looms large in my identity as a reader and as a woman. (I’m not the only one.) One summer while I was home from college and cat-sitting for my neighbors, I locked myself out of their house…while their precious fur-babies were trapped on the porch in the baking afternoon heat. Unlike Nancy Drew, I couldn’t pick locks. I could, however, borrow my father’s screwdriver, unscrew the hinges of the porch door, then pry it open to save the kitties (and my own hide) from catastrophe. Impressed by my ingenuity, my proud father told anyone who would listen, “It must be all those Nancy Drew books she read.”

12 thoughts on “The Books That Shape Us: Nancy Drew

  1. Nancy Drew was my first and favorite, too. My father took me to a used bookstore with him when I was 8, and I bought an old blue cover “Hidden Staircase” for $1.50. It all started there.

  2. I was once asked (in a inservice setting) who my role models were as I was growing up. Everyone else was saying their mom or dad or a certain teacher. My quick response of “Nancy Drew” brought laughter from the crowd, but I was deadly serious. And it appears I’m not the only one!!

    • You’re not the only one, Shirley! One of our editors has a friend who wrote a college application essay about Ned Nickerson. The assignment: Tell us which fictional character you’d like to meet in real life and why.

  3. Nancy Drew instilled in me the love of travel. She went everywhere and met so many interesting people. Totally inspiring for a young girl in the 70s.

  4. Pingback: 18 Lessons I Learned from Nancy Drew | Bas Bleu Bluestocking Salon

  5. My cousin Barbara, a few years older than me, had a collection in her parents’ basement. When we visited them, I always could be found down there in the corner, reading Nancy Drew. We didn’t buy books back then, only borrowed from the library, and the library didn’t carry them. So I have good memories of Nancy and my cousin’s house mixed together.

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