Nancy Drew. Every girl’s childhood buddy–or at least, she was mine. Thanks to a bookstore-owning aunt, my sister and I owned every yellow-spined title in the Nancy Drew mystery series, and we gobbled them up. I knew from an early age that Carolyn Keene was a pen name, and that several authors had written the Nancy Drew mysteries, but until I read this book, I didn’t know the full story of how Nancy Drew was created and how deep her cultural impact became.
This book tells about the background of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which was responsible for producing Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, and many other childrens’ book series that were staples of my childhood. The syndicate worked by having ghost writers complete the books of each series in complete secrecy, so if the syndicate had to switch writers, the readers wouldn’t feel disloyal to the new author. This caused some tension between the writers and the owners of the syndicate, especially in the Nancy Drew series. The two main writers of the Nancy Drew books, Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams (who was the daughter of the syndicate’s founder), fought for years over ownership of the massively popular series, which kept the syndicate afloat during some of the most difficult years in American history.
Despite all the infighting and family drama, both Mildred Wirt Benson and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams were women who worked hard and pressed beyond the boundaries of what was considered normal and appropriate for women of their time. Along with, of course, describing the origins of this extremely popular mystery series, Rehak also goes into detail about the women’s rights movement and how the authors of the Nancy Drew series–along with Nancy Drew herself–supported and participated in this movement. It was a fascinating read, and if, like me, you grew up reading Nancy Drew, you must read this book. It’s nostalgic but surprisingly pioneering and very well researched. Awesome!
Rating: Re-read Worthy