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Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Herby Melanie Rehak
2006 Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical
"And now, for Nancy Drew fanciers old and young, comes Melanie Rehak's Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. With her first sentence ('Grab your magnifying glass, because this is a mystery story') Rehak shows she has a finger on the pulse of the faithful. A proper sleuth for grown-up girls, Rehak — in prose steely, lovely, and precise — explores why Nancy Drew has remained so popular since her arrival, in 1930, and answers the question: Who was the mysterious Carolyn Keene?" Sandra Tsing Loh, the Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
Synopses & Reviews
A plucky "titian-haired" sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women's libbers) to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers' lives. Now, in a narrative with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancy's adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon?
The brainchild of children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over as CEO after her father died. In a century-spanning story Rehak traces their roles — and Nancy's — in forging the modern American woman. With ebullience, wit, and a wealth of little-known source material, Rehak celebrates our unstoppable girl detective.
"The intrepid Nancy Drew has given girls a sense of their own power since she was born, Athena-like, from the mind of Edward Stratemeyer in 1929 and raised after his death in 1930 by his daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Mildred Wirt Benson, a journalist who was the first to write the novels under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Poet and critic Rehak invigorates all the players in the Drew story, and it's truly fun to see behind the scenes of the girl sleuth's creation, her transformation as different writers took on the series, and the publishing phenomenon — the highly productive Stratemeyer Syndicate machine — that made her possible. Rehak's most ambitious choice is to reflect on how Nancy Drew mirrors girls' lives and the ups and downs of the women's movement. This approach is compelling, but not particularly well executed. Rehak's breathless prose doesn't do justice to the complexity of the large social trends she describes, and tangents into Feminism 101 derail the story that really works — the life of a publishing juggernaut. All the same, Stratemeyer himself would undoubtedly say that the story is worth telling. Drew fans are likely to agree. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, the Wylie Agency. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Packed with revealing anecdotes, Rehak's meticulously researched account...will delight fans of the beloved gumshoe whose gumption guaranteed that every reprobate got his due." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A breezy social history." Kirkus Reviews
"As a literary biography, Girl Sleuth is necessarily tangled, since the Nancy Drew mysteries...had numerous parents. But Rehak does a terrific job of bringing to life the writers and editors who constituted Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the series." Kate Arthur, The New York Times Book Review
"In her evenhanded, readable book, Rehak does a good job of exploring the class tensions between the two creators....
"In this well-researched and fluidly paced book, Rehak delivers a complex interweaving of the writers' biographies with the context of their times....Rehak writes with gusto and intelligence....Nancy would be so proud." Chicago Tribune
"Melanie Rehak unspools the fascinating story of how Nancy came to be....
"Whatever becomes of [Nancy's] future...Rehak has given her past its due in this vivid, unpretentious and sympathetic history." Newsday
"Rehak sheds light on perhaps the most successful writing franchise of all time and also the cultural and historic changes through which it passed. Grab your flashlights, girls. The mystery of Carolyn Keene is about to begin." Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
"Girl Sleuth is meticulously researched, elegantly written, and riveting. Melanie Rehak juxtaposes teen sleuth Nancy Drew's omnipotence with the all-too-real struggles of her creators." Susan Kandel, author of Not a Girl Detective
Book News Annotation:
This volume reveals that the many mysteries solved by Nancy Drew, the brainchild of children story mogul Edward Stratemeyer, were written by two women who published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Working from correspondence, articles, and other archival materials, Rehak recreates the lives and careers of Stratemeyer, his daughter Harriet, and writer Mildred Wirt Benson, in an engaging book that grown Nancy Drew fans will enjoy.
Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The brainchild of children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy Drew was brought to life by two women. In a century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles — and Nancy's — in forging the modern American woman.
THE FIRST BEHIND-THE-SCENES HISTORY OF THE BELOVED GIRL DETECTIVE
"Through the history of Nancy Drew, Rehak sheds light on perhaps the most successful writing franchise of all time and also the cultural and historic changes through which it passed. Grab your flashlights, girls. The mystery of Carolyn Keene is about to begin." — Karen Joy Fowler, author of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB
* The original proposal for Nancy Drew suggested that her name be Stella Strong, Nell Cody, Helen Hale, or Diana Dare.
"GIRL SLEUTH is meticulously researched, elegantly written, and riveting. Melanie Rehak juxtaposes teen sleuth Nancy Drew's omnipotence with the all-too-real struggles of her creators." --Susan Kandel, author of NOT A GIRL DETECTIVE
* When Nancy Drew was introduced she wore cloche hats and gloves whenever she was out in public. In the 50s she changed to sport dresses and rompers and even — gasp — pants.
"Witty, fast-paced, and smart, Girl Sleuth makes the story behind Nancy Drew as much fun to read as the mystery novels themselves. It's superb."
--Jean Strouse, author of Morgan, American Financier
* Nancy and her boyfriend Ned Nickerson never once kissed, although in The Secret of the Old Attic she does "faint into his strong arms."
In 1930 a plucky girl detective stepped out of her shiny blue roadster, dressed in a smart tweed suit, ready to restore a stolen inheritance to its rightful owner. Tied up by the villains, she managed to free herself and bring them to justice - all while wearing a pencil skirt and high heels. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women's libbers), and emerged as beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers. Now, in a narrative with all the fast-paced thrill of one of Nancy's adventures, Melanie Rehak solves a page-turning literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to American icon?
With ebullience, wit, and a wealth of little-known source material, Rehak weaves a behind-the-scenes history of Nancy and her groundbreaking creators. Taking us from The Secret of the Old Clock to The Secret of the Spa, Rehak tells all about our fearless sleuth - including the fact that both Nancy and her "author," Carolyn Keene, were invented by Edward Stratemeyer, a dime-novel genius who also created the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys. But Nancy Drew was actually brought to life by two remarkable women: original author Mildred Wirt Benson, a convention-flouting Midwestern journalist, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a wife and mother who transformed herself into a CEO to run her father's company after he died. Together, Benson and Adams created a character that has inspired generations of girls to be as strong-willed and as bold as they were.
Melanie Rehak will send you back to your old Nancy Drews — but thanks to GIRL SLEUTH you'll never read them the same way again.
About the Author
Melanie Rehak is a poet and critic. A recipient of the New York Public Library's Tukman Fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, she writes for the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Nation, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.
Table of Contents
The Stratemeyer Clan 1
Alma Mater 48
Hawkeye Days 73
Nell Cody, Helen Hale, Diana Dare 90
Nancy Drew Land 110
Syndicate for Sale 126
An Unfortunate Break; or, The Cleveland Writer Comes into Her Own 140
Motherhood and Nancy Drew 168
"They Are Nancy" 197
The Kids Are Hep 224
Nancy in the Age of Aquarius 254
Will the Real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up? 288
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