Friday, November 27, 2020

Sophia Rose Reviews: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak, narrated by Melanie Rehak

Today Sophia Rose is reviewing a non-fiction digging into the facts behind the creation of Nancy Drew.

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak, narrated by Melanie Rehak

Non-Fiction, Biography, Pop Culture

Publisher:  Brilliance Audio

Published:  9.8.20

ISBN:  1713525437

Time:  9 hours 31 minutes

Rating: 4

Format:  MP3

Source:  Brilliance Audio

Sellers:  Amazon - Audible - Barnesand Noble - Kobo

Add To: GoodReads  

GoodReads Blurb:

The true story behind the iconic fictional detective is “a fascinating chapter in the history of publishing” (The Seattle Times).

An Edgar Award Winner for Best Biography and a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year

The plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930—and eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women’s libbers) to enter the pantheon of American culture. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers’ lives. Here, in a narrative with all the page-turning pace of Nancy’s adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon?

The brainchild of children’s book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over her father’s business empire as CEO. In this century-spanning, “absorbing and delightful” story, the author traces their roles—and Nancy’s—in forging the modern American woman (The Wall Street Journal).


Sophia Rose's Review:

Nearly every American girl, and many beyond US borders, born around or after 1930 has read or watched an adaption of Nancy Drew.  I am no exception.  I was in third grade when I spotted those iconic book jackets on my school library shelves and then later the library up the street when I needed to read all that were in print at the time (yes, I predated the completion of the original 56).  I was still reading the new iterations of Nancy into my high school years and, when asked about favorite childhood books, Nancy Drew will always be on the list and I am not alone.  What makes her so timeless?  Where did she come from?  Girl Sleuth was a fascinating exploration into the background of the creators, the publishing industry’s influence, and the ins and outs of a pop culture superstar.


Girl Sleuth opened with the author sharing what she loves about Nancy Drew and what moved her to explore behind the books.  The first chapter begins, well, at the beginning with mammoth children’s publisher from the early part of the twentieth century, Edward Stratemeyer.  His family history, early years as family man and writer and then his years in the publishing industry and the early years of his daughters, Harriet and Edna.  Edward no sooner introduced his style of marketing and publishing and began the work on the first three Nancy Drew books with his new ghostwriter, Mildred A. Wirt, when he passed away leaving his publishing business in the hands of his oldest daughter, Harriet.  That is where this book takes off into the heart of its topic.


Finishing Girl Sleuth was a lot like when Dorothy and her friends see behind the curtain of the all-powerful Wizard of Oz.  I’m glad to know what I learned, but it took some of the shine off.  The early years of the children’s publishing industry was as personal as if they were churning out cars on an assembly line- and this is an apt picture because these books were hustled through with ghost writers handed basic outlines and strict formats to keep the line going at a phenom rate. 

Then there are the faces behind it all.  I’m as respecting as the next gal of seeing women in the past step out with fortitude into once all-male dominated jobs and I respected Harriet for going into business and Mildred into writing.  But, to see Mildred handicapped by an awful contract that didn’t allow her to fly as a writer in the creative process and to see Harriet holding so strongly to her dad’s way of doing things was sad.  Baby steps though, right?  What got tedious was seeing Edward’s daughters’ drama over the company.  Edna was very jealous of her sister’s brains and drive and vitality and Harriet did take credit for Edna’s input.  They shared few commonalities and the pair made the vixens in dramas start to seem staid besties. 

I think I was expecting the book to go a different direction even though the subtitle made it clear that this would be the story of the women behind Nancy Drew.  I thought there would be more on Nancy Drew and the books as well as perhaps the TV and movie adaptions and more- the progression into pop culture diva.  There was some, but yes, this was the story of these women and their role in creating and keeping the Nancy Drew books rolling out.  Mildred was only the first of the ghostwriters using the Carolyn Keene moniker, but she was well ahead of her time in how she wanted to portray the capable, intrepid and independent young woman.  She even came to loggerheads with Harriet who wanted to keep Nancy more in line with her dad’s ideas of womanhood and girls.  So Nancy ended up an interesting blend.


Perhaps I got this part wrong- I was listening on a road trip and unable to go back to the exact spot to double-check, but I was startled to discover that the original editions were updated to reflect the times.  The general story didn’t alter and it was little changes.  I knew the series got new covers and a spiffy new look across the decades, but I didn’t realize that I might not have read the exact same Nancy story that my mom did when her blue cloth covers gave way to my golden ones with the Nancy picture stamped on the spine.  Makes me want to go back and do the side by side comparison now.


I had the audiobook edition of Girl Sleuth and the author did the narration work.  I found it hard going, particularly at first even when I was curious to hear the author’s own voice.  All narrators read to us, but one shouldn’t have such a strong impression that someone is sitting there with a manuscript in their hands like a dry lecture hall presentation.  There was little inflection.  I wanted some more enthusiasm for her subject and especially since it was her own.  But, either I got used to it, got involved in the book itself which was well-written, or the narrator improved a little because I was able to press on to the end.


All in all, I have a better understanding of the publication industry of the past and particularly the Stratemeyer publishing house and those who wrote for and ran it.  I think I’m even more amazed that for all their canned story practices, Nancy Drew found a way to break out and endear herself to so many fans over the ages.  Fans will want this one and also those who want a peak into the book industry’s past.


My thanks to Brilliance Audio for the opportunity to listen in exchange of an honest review.


Author’s Bio:

Melanie Rehak is the author of two books: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, a New York Times Bestseller, Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year, and winner of an Edgar Award for Biography from the Mystery Writers of America; and Eating for Beginners: An Education in Eating from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid.

She has been a fellow at The Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library as well as The MacDowell Colony. Her essays, reviews, food writing, and poetry have appeared in many publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The L.A. Times, Slate, The Times Literary Supplement, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Salon, and many others.





Sophia’s Bio:

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, and gardening. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

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  1. It's always interesting to get a little history or back story.

    1. Yes, I had no idea how the books came about or what it was like at the company behind the scenes. Those gals were fascinating, Mary. :)