In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reflections on Nancy Drew

Dear Aunt Debbie,

We're back home from a lovely lakeside vacation, during which we finished reading The Secret of the Old Clock.  Eleanor's excitement and complete inability to sit still as we read to her continued through the last chapter of the book, which I found to be an interesting mix of empowering, old-school, and just a little odd.

You mentioned logical reasoning and working things through as one of Nancy's best attributes.  I was struck perhaps even more by her cool competence in a variety of difficult situations.  When she sees a girl fall from a bridge into shallow water, she runs to the rescue and carries her home.  She drives a car (her own) extremely well, including driving her father around to a few appointments.  She knows how to drive a boat, and when the motor stalls (through no fault of her own), she works on it for more than an hour before giving up.  When help doesn't arrive after a few hours of waiting, she tries again:

To occupy her mind, Nancy concentrated once more on the motor.  Determinedly she bent over the engine.  It was not until the sun sank low in the sky that she sat up and drew a long breath.

"There!" she declared.  "I've done everything.  If it doesn't start now, it never will."

To her relief and astonishment, it responded with a steady roar as if nothing had ever gone wrong!

When confronted with rude girls of her own age or with possibly violent thieves, Nancy is internally morally outraged, but keeps her cool.  When locked in a closet, she tries to pick the lock from inside with a bobby pin, then tears down a wooden rod and uses it as a lever to break open the door at the hinges, citing Archimedes as she does so.  She knows how to bandage an elderly woman's leg properly, cook her a nourishing lunch, and move straight on to following thieves at close range and breaking into their truck.  When describing all of these episodes later, she's humble and undramatic.  Some nice role modeling here.

There are of course the requisite descriptions of every outfit she puts on throughout the book (lots of "smart little suits"), which made me think each time of the initial descriptions of the twins at the beginning of each Sweet Valley High book.  And Nancy is quite purely good in so many ways that one wishes at moments for a little more shading of character.  Still, there's a toughness to appreciate.  Eleanor has already asked me to find her book two.

Love, Annie

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