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The Mystery of Nancy Drew

By Alessia Bellizzi

With the start of fall bringing viral mystery and crime shows to my trending page, I couldn’t help but ask myself: What was all the hype about? I never was a tremendous fan of watching reenactments of real-life serial killers being made into dramas. But every fall there seems to be a rise in them, with the most recent one being the new Netflix show, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Shortly after the release of the show, Netflix also released a documentary about the same serial killer. Both shows continue to dominate as Canada’s top TV shows for the streaming service. I wanted to try and relate to the people who enjoy crime and mystery content, but it never felt like I could get into it. Luckily, there was always a reliable exception to the rule: I remembered my childhood admiration for Nancy Drew and her pals solving family-friendly mysteries. Nancy Drew was, and still is, the IT girl for solving any small-town mystery.

My obsession with the character started when the first movie about her came out in 2007, starring Emma Roberts. She (at the time) was my favourite actress because of the Aquamarine movie from the year before. My dad assumed I would like it, so he did what dads do best: put on a movie and fall asleep so that I couldn’t change the channel. I am glad he did, because boy, was he right. I LOVED that movie so much that I refuse to watch it as an adult because seeing the film through the eyes of an adult just doesn’t feel the same. The movie was perfect for an eight-year-old looking for a cool, independent woman solving mysteries without any help from men. When my mother introduced me to the book collection, I remember being ecstatic. On Halloween of 2010, I insisted I dress up as Nancy Drew for trick or treating. The costume was simple but adorable: a cute turtleneck with a plaid skirt and a magnifying glass. Admittedly, only one house knew who I was, but I was still elated. I also got extra candy from that lady. I hope she’s thriving right now.

Nancy Drew quickly became an icon for me, as she lent herself to every medium of entertainment that I consumed. She had video games, a movie, and tons of books. I especially loved how easy those books were to find. My school library had tons and would often have a sale with each book being twenty-five cents (what a steal!). My local library also had many of her books and games available. Even better, the character had a short run in the graphic novel genre which became my absolute favourite version of her! The graphic novels were so fun to read, but they’ve been near-impossible to own since they went out of print.

It turns out that the mystery of Nancy Drew went beyond the page. I always wondered how the author Carolyn Keene was able to pump out all of these unique stories again and again. I recently discovered the truth behind the mystery: Carolyn Keene was just a pen name for the publisher to use so that multiple ghostwriters could write stories for Nancy Drew. When I found that out, I felt like:

After uncovering the mystery behind the Nancy Drew series, the stories all started to make sense. A lot, if not all of the books never have any consistency. Her books were first published in the 1930s, and she has A LOT of different series. With such a large variety of stories, it’s hard to think that none of the books ever reference each other. For example, one of the Nancy Drew books explains that when Nancy was a little kid, she related to a close person in her family who was also interested in solving mysteries. I even remember Nancy attributing her insane knack for solving mysteries to them. But if you were to read any of her prior books, the person that influenced her is never brought up. The only consistency is that Nancy is still known to be an incredibly smart, independent woman who can solve any small-town mysteries by herself.

Ultimately, what I find compelling about the Nancy Drew books is that they can offer little girls tons of short stories to read about someone like them who can help their neighbours by solving some insane petty crime! On the flip side, what hurts the books the most is the lack of consistency between each book series. I’m not saying that there should be a Nancy Drew literary universe, but it wouldn’t hurt to know that the books are connected somehow. This also hurts the character, because often people won’t pick up books that are “old”. They would normally have to be influenced by the media to be interested. If there was a sense of continuity between older and newer stories, that might make audiences more interested in seeing how the character evolves in modern media. Personally, that 2007 Nancy Drew film shaped me. If it wasn’t for the Emma Roberts movie, I truly don’t even know who I would be today. Without my girl Nancy, I probably wouldn’t even be studying English literature.

Coming from someone who normally doesn’t like the genre of mystery or suspense, Nancy is on a different level. Her character has so many iconic stories that delve into the interesting aspects of mystery while having it not all be about murder and gory topics. Given how much I loved the books, it’s always been a mystery to me why her character was never able to have more substance when it came to mediums like TV or film. The new CW show does Nancy a huge disservice because it doesn’t relate to any of her source material. It’s not like this is too surprising since we all know how The CW loves to take characters from iconic literature and run them to the ground *cough cough* Riverdale. I guess this leads to another real-life Nancy Drew mystery that won’t end until she gets the justice she deserves in the entertainment realm.

Regardless, this fall had me feeling reminiscent of my childhood and the role that Nancy Drew played in it. Growing up, every moment spent with Nancy was a fond one. She brings up the inner child in me in a way that no other character can, and she makes me feel strong and smart. Her games and books were my entire world for years, and I have so many fond memories of feeling like I was solving the mystery alongside her. At the end of the day, this is a love letter to Nancy Drew. If you’re reading this and you happen to have the desire to pick a mystery/crime/suspense book, I highly, highly recommend starting with any book by the girl detective herself.


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