Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet 2011: Letter D - Nancy Drew / The Dana Girls

For the Letter D, I couldn't choose between Nancy Drew and The Dana Girls, so I've decided to write about both. For me, a young Puerto Rican girl growing up on the lower eastside of Manhattan, attending NYC public schools, you'd think the Nancy Drew stories couldn't have been further from my life experience if I'd lived on the moon. You'd be right. (It turns out that Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor - growing up as I did, in NYC - is also a member of the Nancy Drew Sisterhood.)

Read this short piece from the Deseret News, on why all sorts of women have Nancy in common. It only goes to show you that readers do not, necessarily, always want to see mirror images of themselves in what they read. Despite the social and racial chasm between Nancy Drew's priviledged way of life and my own, the moment I read my first Nancy, something clicked. This was the dream world I coveted. I wanted to be a girl with important things to do, wanted to be a girl in charge, a girl with mysteries to solve. Best of all, I wanted a nice blondish page boy hair-do. How, I wanted that hair-do! Never mind that my hair was black and curly. But, most of all, I coveted Nancy's ride - the little yellow roadster of my dreams. (I don't remember if it was actually yellow, but in my mind it will always be the golden yellow of an egg yolk.)

I never did get to own the little yellow roadster, but I did, vicariously pal around with Nancy and the Dana's for years. From the dark and dusty shelves of my memory bank, I vaguely remember that my favorite of all the Nancy books were THE MYSTERY OF THE MOSS COVERED MANSION and THE HIDDEN STAIRCASE. But there were several others I loved as well. And I still do have a great deal of affection for the vintage early covers. The newer covers, years later, just never did it for me - they were so hopelessly banal in design

Nancy Drew, as most everyone knows, was a teenage girl who lived in the fictional town of River Heights with her very accommodating father, attorney Carson Drew, and their housekeeper, Hannah Gruen. Nancy's mother died when she was a young girl. Nancy has a hapless sort of boyfriend, Ned Nickerson and two gal pals, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, who help her in solving the various mysteries she's always running across.

After I'd read my fair share of Nancy Drews, I discovered The Dana Girls books. Truth be told -now I can admit it at last: I always favored The Dana Girls books. There was just something special about the idea of sisters (all I had was a pesky younger brother) working together to solve a problem, sharing danger together. The Dana girls were orphans who, despite having to attend school, still managed to get away enough times to solve whatever mysteries came their way. They lived with their Aunt Harriet and Uncle Ned, who were brother and sister.

The books are similar in tone and story to the Nancy Drew books, except for the Dana girls' family relationship. I think The Dana Girls would have made terrific movies, but I don't believe they were ever filmed. Of the Nancy Drew films over the years, I've always favored the ones from the 1940's featuring Bonita Granville as Nancy. Bonita gave new meaning to the word: spunky. She could be annoying, but mostly she was a hoot.

One day a few years ago, I was in one of those antiques/collectibles shops where anything is possible, when under some stuff in a corner I spied a vaguely familiar blue cover. It was a Dana Girls mystery - something I hadn't seen in many years. I let out such a squeal of joy that the few people in the shop all turned to stare. But far from being embarrassed, I was thrilled. The owner came over thinking something was wrong. I explained and apologized for scaring everyone - but I was overcome by joy at coming across a piece of my childhood. Long story short: Bought the book and took it home. THE SECRET OF THE JADE RING now has pride of place in my kitchen bookcase.

In truth, I remember very little about either of these series except that when I think of them now I immediately feel good. I know these books helped me manage the difficulties of adolescence simply by taking my mind off the various agonies of the day. And maybe, promising me, in some vague way, that somewhere out there was a world where being a teenager wasn't a curse. What could be bad about that? Nothing much. This post is my entry in this week's CRIME FICTION ALPHABET 2011 - for the Letter D. A meme hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

Link to Unofficial Nancy Drew Fan Website.

Note: I do not endorse any websites offering to sell collectible Nancy Drew or Dana Girls books or merchandise, simply because I've never bought any online. I merely enclose links for information's sake.


  1. I LOVED Nancy Drew....I loved her roadster too. But my dream roadster would be blue. Oddly enough, I only read one Dana Girls didn't quite grab my fancy the way Nancy did.

    My favorite Nancy Drew was/is The Clue of the Broken Locket.

  2. Oh I LOVED Nancy Drew books when I was younger - they used to sell 3-in-1 books for £1.49 in our supermarket, I remember them being such a great (affordable) treat! I wish I'd kept them, but I think I donated them all to charity at one point.
    I remember being devastated to discover "Carolyn Keene" was actually a collecton of ghost writers though! So disillusioned! ;)

  3. I wonder what girls read now? I feel sorry for kids without Nancy Drew or Dana Girls in their lives. They were a bridge too, to my interest in the Agatha Christie books. I went from one to the other. I can trace my lifelong interest in mysteries back to Nancy and the Dana's. No question.

  4. Rache: Oh, the ghostwriter thing did bother me, but not for long. I loved those books anyway. The only 'relics' I have are the book I wrote about in the post and a Nancy Drew board game which I bought for 50 cents in a garage sale once upon a time.

  5. I love this: "In truth, I remember very little about either of these series except that when I think of them now I immediately feel good. I know these books helped me manage the difficulties of adolescence simply by taking my mind off the various agonies of the day. And maybe, promising me, in some vague way, that somewhere out there was a world where being a teenager wasn't a curse. What could be bad about that? Nothing much."

    I never read the Dana girls, but Nancy's an old friend (along with "boyish George" and "plump Bess"). The early covers were, as you say, much better. Also simply calling it a roadster and not a car, and a frock, rather than a dress. Just makes you grin, those really old ones.

  6. Thank you Jacqueline, I value your praise. Hopefully it won't go to my head. ;)

    'Frock' is such an evocative word, so, for that matter, is 'roadster', as you say. They're even fun to say. They make memory pictures.

    I was always a sportswear sort of girl, so 'frock' was often an impossibly chi-chi sort of word. Ha. I still want that 'roadster'!

  7. I read a few Nancy Drew books as a child but it was the "Cherry Ames" series of books that I devoured. She was pretty, smart and had a career..all the things I wished for!

    My daughter liked the "Babysitters Club" series of books when she was in elementary school but she quickly advanced to more serious reading in junior high school. Thank goodness both of my children remain advid readers.

  8. It's wonderful when your children turn out to be readers. I never read the Cherry Ames books -truth to tell I'd hardly ever heard of them. BUT, to each his or her own, I always say. Ha!
    I always loved a good mystery and I'll always be thankful that because of Nancy Drew and The Dana Girls, I found Agatha Christie and the rest of the mystery gang. :)

  9. Talking about the words "frock" and roadster...and older words in general....

    I read a post the other day (wish I could remember where--over-the-hill brains aren't what they used to be) about period writers and their word choices. It made it sound like a sin that a modern reader might have to look up a word or, even worse, figure out a word from context. As a girl growing up in the 70s and 80s, I don't remember ever being put out or confused that Nancy wore a frock (after all there were pictures so a "frock" was obviously a dress). I think it highly educational that readers understand that there were words that were popular before whatever we have in common usage now and that there might even be a word that is more fun than whatever we have now.

    I really wonder sometimes what people think their brains are for...certainly not to think and reason and, heaven forbid, realize that there is something different from the known that (gasp) might even be interesting if they thought about it for a few minutes. Sorry...soapbox moment over.

    Back on topic...I'm with you, Yvette. Nancy definitely set me up as a mystery lover for life.

  10. Thanks for this terrific contribution to CFA Yvette. I wasn't a Nancy Drew person - not sure why I missed out on them, perhaps they just weren't popular/available in Australia - but so many people say that their grounding in ND is what turned them into a crime fic reader.

  11. I'm making next month Mystery March (I have a massive backlog of mystery/thrillers that my folks have loaned me). I wonder if my mom still has any of the Nancy Drew books at her house--I'd love to read some again!

  12. I wanted to learn to read so I could read Nancy Drew all by myself and not depend on my sister to read them to me. Like many of us, I love the original Nancy Drews, before the modernizing rewrites. I like the period flavor.

    By the way, your Nancy Drew board game, if complete and in decent condition, is worth at least $100.00 now!

  13. This was oh, so wonderful to read, Yvette. I don't believe I ever read The Dana Girls. I did enjoy ND and I love those old covers. The reading I did as a girl (and still do as an adult) didn't mirror my own life very much. I've never really understood that. Do you think readers mostly read about characters/situations/locales like their own? If so, they miss so much. I've just left 1920s England and present day Iceland in my current reading life. ;<) Again, I just loved this posting.

  14. I meant to tell you about something I read which I think you'll like, Yvette.

  15. Bev: You're allowed a soap box moment now and then. :) I never mind looking up a word if I'm interested enough or the sentence itself does't make the meaning clear. I don't like modernized versions of anything much, especially my favorite stories. Part of their charm IS the nature of the wording, the sentence structure, the visuals they create. Between you, me and the lamppost, there are times when I dont't know what a word means and I don't care. Ha!

  16. Kerrie: You're so welcome. This whole alphabet thing has turned into a lot of fun to work on.
    Now, let me guess: next week's letter....E!

  17. Kerrie: If you didn't read the Nancy's and the Dana's, then there must have been something else around that tipped you ino the Mystery Camp, no doubt. ;)

  18. Lisa: Mystery March, I like it!! Will you be posting any special events? I'm a little leery of re-reading certain books I loved as a kid. If I don't like them or they don't speak to me anymore - what then? That Dana Girls I found in the junk shop is still unread by me. I'm happy enough just having it in the house to remind me of the past. :)

  19. Joan: Really? I figured the N.D. game would be worth something at some point. I'd planned on framing the board but haven't done so mainly because I'm running out of wall space to hang anything - I'm such an art and collectible fiend. But maybe I'll sell it instead. The box is in okay shape, but the game is pretty choice.

    Thanks for stopping by. :)

  20. Nan: Thanks for the kind words, they are really and truly appreciated. I wonder too, what attracts readers to certain books or, for that matter, what repels them. I always loved stories about people having adventures. Before Nancy Drew and the Dana's, there was Pippi Longstocking. She was my bridge to Nancy. (I sense a pattern here...!)

    I can't imagine reading books that just mirror my own boring life. Ha! Nah. I like a little more pizazz than that, for goodness' sake. :)

    And thanks for the link, Nan. I'll check it out.


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