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Review-a-Day
The Oregonian
Thursday, August 27th, 2009
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Confessions of a Teen Sleuth: A Parody

by Chelsea Cain

Cluing in to the 'Real' Nancy Drew

A review by Meg Daly

The truth is out: Nancy Drew was an actual person whose story was stolen from her by a vindictive college roommate, Carolyn Keene. Nancy has chosen Portland writer Chelsea Cain to tell her story, "based on the merits of Cain's four-volume Trixie Belden biography."

Trixie is just one of a gaggle of literary teen sleuths to play a part Cain's irresistible, hilarious mock-memoir. This episodic novel for adults finds Nancy sleuthing her way across the decades from 1926 to the present day.

Not surprisingly, Nancy marries her high school sweetheart, Ned Nickerson. But her heart beats fondly for Frank Hardy -- the eldest Hardy Boy -- for years to come. In 1953, when Nancy learns that Hannah Gruen, her childhood maid, has been taken in by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Nancy calls Frank for help. Frank sends Tom Swift Jr. (the fictional inventor's son) to retrieve Nancy in a plane that lands in her backyard.

For the adventure, Nancy packs "only the essentials: lipstick, rouge, foundation, mascara, eye shadow, eye liner, cold cream, curlers, a hairbrush, a magnifying glass, two pairs of stockings, two pairs of pumps, three pencil-straight skirts (two with elastic waistbands), four fitted blouses, a cashmere cardigan, two boxy jackets, an assortment of undergarments, and a bottle of Estee Lauder Youth Dew."

Cain, a self-proclaimed "teen-sleuth enthusiast," manages to poke fun at her heroine without dissing Nancy entirely. Whether she is playfully lampooning Richard Nixon, 1970s feminists or cruise ships, Cain is a brilliant parodist. One can see why her mother encouraged her to be a stand-up comedian, as is revealed in Cain's acknowledgments.

A bittersweet parallel runs between Cain and her heroine, who both lost their mothers. While fans have been led to believe Nancy's "missing mother" died early in Nancy's life, that is not what Nancy discovers. In fact, her mother ran off to be a suffragette when Nancy was 3. With the assistance of her nemesis Nurse Cherry Ames, Nancy almost finds her mother in a Japanese internment camp -- but Mom stays one step ahead of her.

I have a confession of my own to make: I had never cracked a Nancy Drew story before reading Cain's novel. But as of press time, my nose is buried in The Secret of the Old Clock. I predict Drew fans will be inspired by Cain to revisit their old faves -- and bookstores and libraries will see a mysterious increase in Carolyn Keene titles disappearing from shelves.


The Oregonian The Oregonian is the online source for comprehensive coverage of the Northwest literary scene. Its daily books report includes news, reviews, and poetry, as well as essays and opinions from local authors.

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