First, I must ask you all to forgive me for being what must be very very late to a controversy (the book we're going to talk about was published in 1997. urp). But in my defense, I was, um, busy. I'm sure that was it.
And oh! How I want to write a la Metropolitan Diary "A friend writes…" because in this case a friend does write, but it doesn't quiet fit the bill. Because honestly? In this case, "A friend alerts me…."
So I am going to give you part of the text of the email so you can have your own, ahem, reaction. The background: her 3rd grade daughter was reading that heroine of Supreme Court Justices, Miss Nancy Drew.
From The Nancy Drew Files, Case 39, The Suspect Next Door by Carolyn Keene
Page 1: "I'm crazy about you, Nan." Nancy Drew's eyes were still shut after Ned's long, lingering kiss. She felt his breath on her ear as he uttered those magic words. A ripple of delight slid up her spine. Opening her eyes, Nancy gazed into the warm, handsome face of her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson. Behind him, the setting sun shone through the dappled leaves of the trees in the park. "You know something?" Nancy said with a glowing smile. "Hmmm?" Ned murmured. "I've got to be the luckiest girl in the entire universe."
and page 4: "Turning toward him, she tenderly ran her fingertips over his strong jaw. "I love you, too, Ned, only you. Now and always," she murmured. Before she knew it, their lips were meeting in another sizzling kiss. A bolt of glorious electricity went straight through Nancy."
I think we can all agree: what the….??????
All I can tell you is, this is not my Nancy Drew (yes, I sound like her disappointed mother). The Nancy Drew I knew would never do something like this. She would not have a bolt of glorious electricity going straight through her. We all know where that bolt started, and that is NOT why we read Nancy Drew. Especially when we are freaking 8 YEARS OLD.
I count on Nancy for any number of things: to have titian curls. To have a great idea. To have a roadster. To use a lot of action verbs "Nancy ran down the stairs, leapt into her sporty roadster, and laughed aloud at the thought of George in a dress…" or whatever. But this?
I am trying to locate the source of my reaction. And I am trying not to just be a knee-jerk prude. Even if I am, well, a knee-jerk prude. I mean, maybe Nancy Drew was somehow written for older kids?
Except it isn't.
And maybe sexuality is power, after all. Right? I mean, maybe she was too squeaky clean before?
Except she wasn't. She was just—apart from sex. She was the one freaking respite in a world that seems fairly obsessed, not with sex exactly, but with putting girls into this airless glass ball of sexualized identity and then trapping them there under glass until they die.
Sometimes it feels like from the moment they turn 4 there's nowhere for girls to turn that isn't sexualized, in a very particular heterosexual romantic way, and it only gets more and more intense the older they get. I hear 3rd and 4th grade girls talking about their "crushes" as though they were obligated to have them.
And while I applaud, in some sort of general theoretical way the wide-open mania of YA, with its gritty honesty about sex and love (at least, some YA
), I feel, too, for the kids who just can't handle it. Because it's great to be open, it truly is…
But. But. But.
But a lot of girls aren't ready for that. I'm not talking only about the third grader who read the hair-raising excerpt above, but also about the 11 or 12 or 13 year old (or older!) who's just not ready to deal.
And what I loved about Nancy Drew—and lord how I loved her!—was being able to go to this strange fabricated world where everything was both exciting and predictable, where you didn't have to deal with any of the sticky troubling reality. There was no social pressure. There was no sex. There was nothing but mysteries and danger and a way to figure them all out, to tame the trouble and head off in your roadster with your friends.
And it really kills me that they've taken that away. And that they've mashed it up with a whole load of the same inescapable bullshit that surrounds me and my girls every freaking day, with this omnipresent expectation of who you are supposed to be: you will be a girl. You will be pretty, or try to be pretty, or care about being pretty. You will feel a thrill when a boy says you're wonderful.
It reminds me of They Live
(did anyone else see it?), an excellent sci-fi movie in which (spoiler alert to the nth degree!) everyone was being controlled by this signal coming through their televisions, and then they got these special sunglasses that let them break through their brainwashing, and they found that everything had been designed to subjugate them: dollar bills, when seen with the sunglasses, were actually printed with "This is your God" and the traffic lights all chanted "Marry and reproduce." This bastardized Nancy Drew (and yes, they have purchased the long-used pseudonym Carolyn Keene and just whore it around on crap like this at will) is just like that
But, well…as you can see, I have something of a tendency to get carried away. Right?
So what do you think? Am I overreacting?