Nancy Drew, You’re a Tart!

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?

17 thoughts on “Nancy Drew, You’re a Tart!

  1. Jiminy Crickets! I don’t think you’re overreacting. I might not mind Nancy and Ned kissing in a book for 8 (ok, maybe 10) year olds, given that N & N are clearly older, but all the spine tingling lingering electricity and the glorious sizzling ripples of delight are WAY too much. Practically soft porn!
    Very depressing.

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  2. I don’t think you’re overreacting at all.
    There’s an article that details the history of Nancy Drew that was written in the late 90’s, if I recall. I looked for it briefly to link it, but I can’t seem to find it or anything else that has the same information (it’s hardly classified). “Carolyn Keene” was a pen name for the original author of the books (a man!). Almost as soon as the publisher began issuing new editions, they began “updating” the text to modernize it. Slowly, over a period of decades, Nancy Drew went from being a relatively self-possessed, confident heroine who got herself out of all kinds of scrapes to a girl more interested in boys than mysteries, who was often rescued by others or passive as crimes got solved.
    I find that very anti-feminist change in the stories the most upsetting (and how sad too, when the original books were issued in the 1930’s and as women got more rights in society, Nancy became less and less admirable from a feminist point of view!). However, the increased sexuality is also too bad. I agree that it has a place in YA, but not here.
    Ugh…
    Okay, I just looked, and the Wikipedia page has all this info and more with notations… why didn’t I check there first?

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  3. Wait — I’m confused. Do “they” still write Nancy Drew books? It wasn’t a “finite” series? And I don’t think you’re over-reacting AT ALL. That’s just horrible. Horrible. Horrible. And just so you know, I’m finding with my older son turning thirteen this July that it’s THE GIRLS who are incredibly aggressive at this age. It’s taken me by surprise…

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  4. Wow, that’s… a bit much. The Nancy Drew I remember didn’t even hold hands! I agree that while it is good and fine to explore issues of sexuality and so forth in some YA books, that’s no reason to make EVERY YA book sexual. If that makes sense.

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  5. If you’re a knee-jerk prude, apparently I am too. That is in no way the Nancy Drew I adored as a girl, and I’d no more want my eight-year-old reading that than I’d want her reading the Twilight series. Entertaining? Sure. Age-appropriate for the preteen crowd? Sorry, but I don’t think so.

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  6. And now I am glad that I was more of a Trixie Belden fan. 😉 But yeah- that is too, much for the demographic that reads these.

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  7. When they introduced this series my best friend from 7th grade, another old school Nancy fan, called them “the New Nancy Screw”.
    I’m with you. I liked my Nancy to be amazingly accomplished at everything she did without reference to sex. It’s not that I mind the idea of Nancy being sexual, it’s that I don’t think she should be in books aimed at a target audience that still want their moms to read aloud to them.

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  8. Ooh I entirely agree. It makes me sad and my daughter is only 1 1/2… not book related but she keeps outgrowing her pants and all I can find in the cheaper stores are what I call (in my mind) mini-coke-whore pants… that sounds really harsh and horrible and unkind to cocaine addicted prostitutes but seriously WTF with sexy clothes for BABIES? Aaagh!

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  9. My now 4th grade daughter was having a hard time deciding which book to get out of the school library a year or 2 ago. (Bad mom: I can’t remember what she read when.)
    “You like Nancy Drew,” I said. “Why don’t you just check out another one?”
    “Because I read all the old ones they have and I don’t like those new ones.”
    I thought it might have been the cheesy covers, but now I wouldn’t be surprised if it was for what you outline above…
    So not only are they arguably inappropriate for their demographic, but not liked either (at least by kids like mine).

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  10. Seriously, this is so wrong.
    My 4th grader also said that she didn’t like the new Nancy Drew books. Now I get it and feel like an idiot for really pushing the books, and telling her to try them one more time. Ugh. Heavy sigh. This is not good.

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  11. If you’re overreacting then I am too, because that is just awful. And very, very poorly written, which almost offends me more. Really, any one of my eleventh grade English class could do a better job than that. Shudder.

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  12. Not so very long ago I was one of those “not ready” girls (at age 10)…I never tried Nancy Drew (I think because my mom wanted me to read it), but in the sequel to “The Girl on the Milk Carton” called “Whatever happened to Janie?” Janie and her boyfriend check into a hotel to have sex (though I don’t think they go through with it). Though I knew at the time what sex was, having it directly associated with a character I was meant to identify with deeply disturbed me. I had chosen the book at a Scholastic book fair (!) and even as a kid felt outraged that someone was marketing that book to me.

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  13. Bravo to this! I was never a huge Nancy Drew fan, but I respect her so much more as a self confident heroine who didn’t find her identity in her boyfriend. Thank you for posting what so many of us are thinking!

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