For the past 75 years, girls of all ages have fallen in love with Nancy Drew, the spunky teenage detective who could solve just about any mystery without batting an eye. Journalist Melanie Rehak, in her new book Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, reveals how the brainchild of a juvenile publishing giant created one of the most beloved characters in fiction.
Nancy Drew was first created by Edward Stratmeyer, founder of the Stratmeyer Syndicate, who already created many other successful fiction series for children (including The Hardy Boys and The Bobbsey Twins), was working on a book series targeted at young girls when he created the teen detective. He already had hired journalist Mildred Augustine Wirt to ghostwrite another series for him and tapped her to write the first volumes of the new series. He had already developed outlines for the first five books when his publisher, Grosset and Dunlap, agreed to publish the books. But the series almost didn’t get off the ground as Stratmeyer died just twelve days after the first book was published. The Syndicate was left to Harriet Stratmeyer Adams (Edward’s daughter) to manage. Although Adams knew little about the business she managed to continue the publishing legacy started by her father.
The book was meticulously researched and provides intimate details on how Nancy Drew grew from a fictional character to cultural icon. Along the way, Ms. Rehak reveals how both Adams and Wirt contributed to the success of the series. She also reveals that the working relationship was not always rosy and spotlights both the low points as well as high points of the character’s development. The fact that both Ms. Adams and Ms. Wirt were prolific letter writers provides personal insights into the women behind the character.
The only negative aspect is Ms. Rehak’s tangential discussion of feminism and the attempt to make Nancy Drew appear to be an icon of the women’s rights movement. It’s ironic that so much emphasis is placed not only on the feminist aspects of the character as well as her creators when Nancy Drew consistently reflected more traditional values (even to the point that she was never allowed to have a love interest).
Despite the minor deviations from the overall story, this is still a fascinating insight into one the most successful publishing companies of all time. For any girl that grew up reading Nancy Drew books and wishing to be her, Girl Sleuth will be a fascinating literary adventure.