2006 Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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....[A]n enjoyable, thorough piece of detective work. It would earn a nod of approval from Nancy Drew herself." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"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....[A]bsorbing and delightful..." Wall Street Journal
"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
"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
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 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.
Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Biography * A Chicago Tribune
Best Book of 2005* Winner of the Agatha Award for Non-Fiction
"A feat of daring worthy of Nancy herself." Los Angeles Times
Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. Here, with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancys adventures, is the first behind-the-scenes history of our beloved girl detective. Behind the blue roadster, cloche hats, uncanny timing, and constant presence in the lives of American girls lies an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon? Melanie Rehak has put together the clues and tracked down the suspects; grab your flashlights and join the gang as we find out the truth about Nancy Drew.
"Such an engrossing read that it made me hungry for some Nancy Drews. Rehak writes with gusto and intelligence. Nancy would be so proud."--Chicago Tribune
"Absorbing. Girl Sleuth is an enjoyable, thorough piece of detective work." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
"A proper sleuth for grown-up girls. Prose [that is] steely, lovely, and precise." The Atlantic Monthly
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.
About the Author
MELANIE REHAK's Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her earned both Edgar and Agatha Awards. She has written for the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and others; her column on food books, “Paper Palate,” appears in Bookforum.
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