The Girl Sleuth, On the Trail of Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, and Cherry Ames

Anyone else used to read Nancy Drew books? Or, for that matter, any of the many other girls’ mystery series that were really, really popular in decades past? I used to love Nancy Drew, and probably owe some of my curiousity and wanderlust to them, and my love of language and books. But there is, of course, the element of the ridiculous in them, and The Girl Sleuth by Bobbie Ann Mason is an interesting literary and social critique of these types of books.

The book was written in the 1970s, and this creates an interesting experience when you hear the word ‘now’ and realize Mason is talking about an era when feminism was really on a swing. From the perspective of one who began reading Nancy Drews not too long after that, it’s really something to remember my reactions to the ‘hipper’ Nancys versus the primmer ones of the 1930s and ’40s. Which do I like better? was a constant question in my mind. (The old ones – for narrative voice and language and quaint old-fashionedness.)

Sometimes there’s that irritating quality in it that we’ve all experienced when something we’ve enjoyed is over-analyzed, but, for the most part, I found that quality was not overwhelming in Mason’t critique. And, certainly, it’s an area well worth exploring. If I don’t want to explore it, I can always close the book, can’t I? And I did for a while, when I didn’t feel in the mood the intellectually explore the history and characteristics of old girl books. But I finished, and I’m very glad to have read it. I recommend it to anyone who wants a readable critique of the phenomenon of girls’ series books in a form which seems to have ended, at least from my perspective. These are not the Gossip Girls books, thank goodness. (Although one series seemed to me like a light precursor, from the description given in Mason’s book.)

Anyway, it’s a nice nostalgic trip that gets a little too serious sometimes…but, then again, maybe not.


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