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A plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. 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 girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the A plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. 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 girlhood. 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 vivid energy and 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 as CEO after her father died. In this century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles—and Nancy’s—in forging the modern American woman.


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A plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. 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 girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the A plucky “titian-haired” sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. 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 girlhood. 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 vivid energy and 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 as CEO after her father died. In this century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles—and Nancy’s—in forging the modern American woman.

30 review for Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    2019 UPDATE The long-awaited TV adaptation has tapped a newcomer to play Nancy Drew! Exciting news, since the CW is the logical home for a drama based on her career. Rating: 4* of five The Publisher Says: A plucky "titian-haired" sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. 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 girlhood. As beloved by girls today as 2019 UPDATE The long-awaited TV adaptation has tapped a newcomer to play Nancy Drew! Exciting news, since the CW is the logical home for a drama based on her career. Rating: 4* of five The Publisher Says: A plucky "titian-haired" sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. 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 girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers' lives. Now, in a narrative with all the vivid energy and 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 as CEO of the pioneering Stratemeyer Syndicate after her father died. In a century-spanning story Rehak traces their roles--and Nancy's--in forging the modern American woman. With ebullience, wit, and a wealth of little-known source material, Rehak celebrates our unstoppable girl detective. My Review: When I was about nine, I went through a Hardy Boys phase. My mother, who went from buying Oldsmobile-priced cocktail dresses at Henri Bendel and Chevrolet-priced suits at Bonwit Teller to working three jobs to support us, never said no when it came to buying me a book. So I read my way through the catalog, and looked around for more. Mama somewhat diffidently pointed out the Nancy Drew books. I asked if she solved crimes. “Yes, and drives a blue roadster,” said the wily old girl, and I had another school year's reading at a quarter a book. (Used. We most often bought used...Mama said the words didn't wear out and who cared about the cover anyway?) Ever after, I've had a “thing” for All-American boys and girls who just damn well do it for themselves. From such acorns.... Mystery-reading pleasure was a given. Mother and sister were big consumers of the genre. I got my own books, and they were not mysteries, but good heavens a boy can't survive on a book a week! I mean really! So I read their mysteries. I checked mysteries out of the liberry. I read all the Hardy Boys (always preferred Joe to Frank, Iola be hanged) and Nancy Drew (what a maroon Ned Nickerson was!) a couple times each. They lost their luster about the time I found good SF. But do you ever forget that first kiss? I know I haven't. Nancy, Frank, and Joe...oh my how I treasured their orderly world. No one behaved badly (my narcissistic parents were astonishingly insensitive and ill-mannered in their divorcing) without consequences, and crimes were punished. I liked that a lot! And I still do. Melanie Rehak apparently did, too. She set out to tell the story, public since the 1970s at least, of the origins of Nancy Drew, Girl Sleuth. All the ookie bleccchhhy part about families in conflict over Smothers-Brothers-y “dad always liked you best” and “I sit here with mom and you swan about” and so on; all the fish-out-of-water growing up of a major tomboy with a ginormous brain, in a rinky dink dink little wide spot in the road, leading to Iowa State and college degree in the 1920s; all the nasty mean greedy behind-the-scenes moneygrubbing everyone seems to have thought nothing of. It's as good as a novel. It's as much fun as a Nancy Drew story to unravel. It's not perfect, but it's got a lot of story and it tells the story concisely, yet without leaving annoying holes or piling numbing crap all over the reader. The focus is on Nancy, her “father” Edward Stratemeyer, her “mother” Midred Wirt, and wicked stepmother Harriet Stratemeyer Adams. That's enough for a 600pp doorstopper, let me assure you! Author Rehak got out her laser, finely cut and carefully etched the truly important bits from these three peoples' lives and then soldered and electroplated the whole thing into a lovely, solid bracelet shaped like Nancy Drew. Even if you've never read one of these books, THIS book is a very good read, and an intriguing side window onto American culture in the mid-20th century. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Juli

    Ok...first some Nancy Drew fan-girling....then my review of this book. When I saw this book in my local library, I snapped it right up! Although Trixie Belden is my girl detective of choice ever since my teenage years in the 80's, I also enjoyed Nancy Drew. There's just something about a teenage girl sleuth that draws a young girl in to these books. Back in the day, I had the entire Trixie Belden series in paperback, and dutifully traveled to Waldenbooks in the city to pick up the last two books, Ok...first some Nancy Drew fan-girling....then my review of this book. When I saw this book in my local library, I snapped it right up! Although Trixie Belden is my girl detective of choice ever since my teenage years in the 80's, I also enjoyed Nancy Drew. There's just something about a teenage girl sleuth that draws a young girl in to these books. Back in the day, I had the entire Trixie Belden series in paperback, and dutifully traveled to Waldenbooks in the city to pick up the last two books, published in 1986. I remember being so excited that there were new Trixie stories that I actually waited to read them. I had to build up some courage to read the final books. I knew when I finished those last books that it was over....no more Trixie. I still do that sometimes when I'm on the last book of a good series! It's hard to say goodbye to characters when a series is ending. Trixie and Nancy Drew really started my love of books. Those were the books I CHOSE to read, rather than the books I HAD to read for school. Being forced to read a book just takes a bit of the enjoyment out of it. Laying across your bed with the cat completely engrossed in a story til your Mom yells at you that you're holding up dinner.....then getting lectured for bringing a book to the table....that's enjoying a book! You never would have caught me getting in trouble for bringing The Red Badge of Courage to the dinner table. The exciting adventures of girl amateur sleuths were worth inciting The Wrath of Mom. Classic force-reads...not so much. I babysat my horrendous (he was so naughty and spoiled!) nephew in the summer to earn money to spend on Trixie books. A new $1.25 non-creased, new-book-smell paperback was worth all the whining, coloring on the walls and temper tantrums in the world to me. My whole bookshelf was filled with lovely 80's version tan cover much beloved Trixie paperbacks (that shows how many times I had to babysit that nightmare nephew!). But on the very top....held up with mismatched bookends (one side was a big piece of petrified wood and the other was the piggy bank my dad gave me for my birthday when I was 8. Being between those two prized items (which I still have displayed on my bookshelves even now) was a supreme place of honor!) was a partial row of bright yellow spines (and some blue, too). Nancy Drew! And another series published by the same people -- Hardy Boys! Now that I have explained how much I loved these books....I can get to my book review. I'm getting there! I'm getting there! I homed in on this book sitting atop my local library's shelf on display like Trixie jumping on a clue. Gleepers! It's a book about Nancy Drew! It might contain clues about who wrote the books! Egads! :) I was probably one of the only readers who didn't realize Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym used by ghostwriters to churn out this series. In my defense, I was young, naive and didn't realize publishers required some authors to sign away their rights to their work upon payment. Contract work exists to this day. When a paying job comes up, you take it...right? I read a lot of cozy mystery series (probably stemming from my early love of these girl sleuth novels) and cozy authors often contract to write series using another name under contract to a publisher. I don't think it's ever as extreme as with these early series. To this day, I still have never read any information about which authors wrote the Trixie Belden books! I wish I knew!! The in-house writers were all just lumped under the pen-name Kathryn Kenny (after book #6 when Julie Campbell ducked out). It gets complicated! And is still complicated!!! OK.....Yes, I am finally getting to Melanie Rehak's book. I brought Girl Sleuths home from the library, finished the two books I was reading at the time, and delved into the world of Nancy Drew and early twentieth century syndicate publishing. Alas, some mysteries are better off left unsolved. I found this book disappointing. A bit of a let-down. I wanted to the depths of my heart to love, love, love this book --- I naively expected to read about female authors getting to ply their craft and creating this wonderful, beloved girl sleuth and feeling chuffed and fulfilled as each book was published. That couldn't have been further from the truth. In reality, Nancy Drew was created by an early publishing syndicate that churned out many other series aimed at youth. They used ghostwriters, requiring the authors to sign away all rights to their work and paying them a small lump sum for their work. None of the money made from Nancy Drew was ever seen by the woman who penned the first books from 1929-1953, Mildred Wirt. She was paid $125 per book (or less during the depression when the publisher decided the bad economy required them to pay less per book). Working from an outline provided by the publisher and subject to editing of any dialogue or story events that seemed un-ladylike, Wirt churned out many books for the syndicate over the years (not just Nancy Drew), but under her contract was forbidden to claim any of it as her writing or discuss her part in the process. The syndicate was sure that the authors who wrote their books just followed the outlines provided to them without really adding that much to the process.... Really??? Not only was I disappointed to find out the authors of some of my favorite books were victims of blatant publisher contractual mind-rape....but this book is written in a pretty dry format. The book focuses on the founder of the publishing syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer, and his daughter, Harriet, rather than the books, characters or writers of these stories. The book reads like a dissertation....just a spewing forth of facts and dates....rather than a story about the people or books they published. There is very little about creation of the characters or covers for the books, modernization of the books, or what is happening with the series now.....just a lot of mind-numbing facts about the publishing syndicate that kept women at their typewriters for decades with no recognition.....even telling lies about who actually wrote Nancy Drew and other children's series to keep the actual authors identities a secret. It was all a marketing trick.....the books were churned out according to formula outlines and published in such a way to prevent authors from being loved by their readers so that a publishing syndicate could rake in big bucks. What a load of shit. I love the Nancy Drew books. I love Trixie Belden. But it appears the publishing world that created all of these stories is a mire of greed and just crappy behavior. I'm glad I know the identity of the woman who wrote most of the first Nancy Drew books. But I really couldn't care less about the publishing syndicate that took advantage of her, and others like her, for decades. Gleepers! What a clue! I know who the crooks are! Egads! What a let-down. This book gets a 3 star rating from me.... it's well researched, but presented in a really dry, boring manner and just focuses too much on the Stratemeyers. Just a little bit more about the actual writing and editing process, the popularity of the series and other books based on this formula, how they developed new series, development of the characters over time, the decisions to edit the earlier books to modernize the characters, and where the series is going now would have been so interesting. But the book mostly dwells on the Stratemeyers, their publishing syndicate and its use of contracts to control the books, and their heavy-handed editing to maintain lady-like behavior and talk, etc. Ho, hum. It just ended up making me a mixture of angry and sad.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Greendale

    Click here to watch a video featuring this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend. Click here to watch a video featuring this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    I enjoyed this book about the real life creators of Nancy Drew. However, it was vague on one little detail that became extremely important to me as I read it. I ended up doing a bit of sleuthing, myself, and I am extremely amped by what I discovered. Before getting into that, I will quickly summarize by saying that this is a book for Nancy Drew fans or, perhaps, for children's librarians or others who might be interested in the history of juvenile publishing. I found the book quite interesting, a I enjoyed this book about the real life creators of Nancy Drew. However, it was vague on one little detail that became extremely important to me as I read it. I ended up doing a bit of sleuthing, myself, and I am extremely amped by what I discovered. Before getting into that, I will quickly summarize by saying that this is a book for Nancy Drew fans or, perhaps, for children's librarians or others who might be interested in the history of juvenile publishing. I found the book quite interesting, as I am a former YA librarian and also once was a little girl who read her way through every Nancy Drew book that could be found in the small town libraries that dotten the still rural county where I spent the majority of my childhood. "Nancy" is probably the character that hooked me into a lifetime of mystery reading (and viewing!) She also tapped into my obsession with the past -- especially the parts of the mid-twentieth century that I missed (to wit: the Twenties through the mid-1960s when I was, quite anxiously, I am told...born.) I fantasized, as many young girls did, about being wealthy...driving something called a 'roadster' (later a convertible) and having parents who let me do anything I wanted. Nancy was never arsed to go to work or to school. She was in that Sweet Spot -- apparently freshly graduated from high school -- with no pressure to move on to either higher education (that was a goal reserved for her long suffering boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, and his preppie chums at Emerson College) -- or to gainful employment. Carson Drew had deep enough pockets to indulge Nancy's yen for a mystery seemingly forever -- or until a suitable marriage might take place. Nancy, therefore, had endless time to perfect her zillions of talents, to travel to amazing locales, and to solve mysteries without ever getting herself or her friends killed. -- My own daughter is going through a Nancy Drew phase at the moment. We were having some reading time recently and she started to laugh. When I asked her what was funny she replied: "Nancy sure has a lot of hobbies. In the last book she was playing golf. Now she is arranging flowers." -- We talked for awhile about how upper middle class girls of that era spent most of their time learning how to be executive's wives. So pastimes like golf, decorative arts, tennis, and other 'country club' pursuits took the place of college. Throwback and potential Stepford Wife that she may be, I do love me some Nancy. Thus it was fun for me to learn more about her original creator and the women who ghost wrote her stories under the storied nom de plume, "Carolyn Keene". -- I was aware, though my background in librarianship, that Nancy Drew (and also the Hardy Boys) were part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate publishing line for juveniles. Edward Stratemeyer was a prolific producer of series for kids, dating back into the late 1800s with lines that are still known today: Horatio Alger, the Oliver Optic books, the Boxcar Children, the Dana Girls, etc. Nancy Drew was Edward Stratemyer's last brain child. Shortly after he conceived the series and employed a free lance writer from Cleveland to write the first titles, Stratemyer suddenly dropped dead. His two daughters, Edna and Harriet, were left to pick up the pieces, care for their invalid mother, and figure out what to do with Edward's publishing empire. Stratemeyer had exercised rigid control over his ghost writers and his titles. He had produced the germ for every book written in every series...and supplied his writers with the outline for the story he wanted in each case. Harriet, his eldest Wellesley educated daughter, was intimidated by the thought of picking up the pieces and keeping the business in operation. However, the blue stocking in her was also thrilled at the opportunity to do something with her education. (Like Nancy, Harriet lived the upper middle class life, up to this point - - jobless, and primarily occupied with the running of her household and seemly ladies-who-lunch style volunteer work.) Harriet took to the business and became more and more interested in/obsessed with the Nancy Drew line. Her relationship with the ghost writer, Mildred Augustine Wirt, was complex. She seemingly admired Augustine's ability to crank out the titles. However she became more and more invested in the content as time went by and often came to loggerheads with Wirt. Both women had definite ideas about the character and, at times, these visions clashed. Harriet was the proper patrician who was mainly concerned with Nancy's 'character' (proper behavior, nobless oblige, etc) Mildred, a former college athlete and more 'rough and tumble' newspaper person, was more invested in Nancy the athletic and bold adventurer. I could go into much more detail about the relationship between these two women, the various power struggles over Nancy, and also the frosty relationship between the two Stratemeyer sisters...but that is what the book is for. If you enjoyed Nancy Drew as a kid and want to know all about her, then I encourage you to get the book. My main coup, upon completion of this book, is the exciting knowledge that Nancy Drew was 'born' in my neighborhood!! Yes, although this book rather vaguely informs us that Mildred Wirt (although originally from Iowa) was living in Cleveland in the early 1930s when she began writing Nancy Drew -- I dug in a bit deeper with some research into 1930 census records and learned that Mildred and her husband were actually living right down the street from me in Lakewood! The apartment where she lived when she wrote the very first installment still stands, as do the two homes where she resided before her husband was transferred to Toledo for work. If I had known, as a hardcore Nancy fan, when I was my daughters age, that Nancy Drew had Cleveland connections, I would have been very excited. This does not appear to be very common knowledge in my city and I am now getting a bit of a bee in my bonnet about trying to establish an Ohio Historic plaque in the neighborhood to commemorate out connection to one of the most famous children's series ever written. Thus, as a Lakewoodite and a former Nancy Groupie, I am delighted that I had an opportunity to read this title and jump start a new local history research project.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    So aside from this gorgeous Scandinavian fairytale book I used to repeatedly check out from the library as a child*, the Nancy Drew books make up the entirety of my first real literary memories. When you have a bookworm for a child, know that that child will scour your entire house for any book it can find**, and will then proceed to read any and all books indiscriminately. This works out well for the child, generally, but you should know it's going to happen. That's how I found my mom's collect So aside from this gorgeous Scandinavian fairytale book I used to repeatedly check out from the library as a child*, the Nancy Drew books make up the entirety of my first real literary memories. When you have a bookworm for a child, know that that child will scour your entire house for any book it can find**, and will then proceed to read any and all books indiscriminately. This works out well for the child, generally, but you should know it's going to happen. That's how I found my mom's collection of all the original run Nancy Drew books, up until the last book published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1979. I discovered them tucked away in a bottom cabinet, hidden behind assorted VHS tapes of Lassie and Flipper. This was like finding a box full of treasure. *This book is eating my brain. I've been trying for years to track it down. I barely remember the story or the illustrations, only that I loved it, and found a copy in a different library in about 1998 or so, and stupidly didn't check it out or remember the title or the author. If I saw it, I would remember, but I haven't and I can't and IT IS DRIVING ME MAD. **People, hide your sexy books. Really, your children will find them under your bed and in your nightstand. They will go through your closets. They will find the pictures you hid inside them, also, even if they never tell you about it. Think of your children. Hide your shit. Imagine finding that book as an inquisitive seven year old whose imagination is already in overdrive. And then imagine there are fifty-six more of them (I couldn't even count that high!). Fifty-six books full of a supercool heroine who is smart, capable, independent, has her own car, and gets to regularly solve mysteries, discover hidden passages and compartments, and explore mysterious old buildings. I found Girl Sleuth at the library on one of their suggestion tables. I don't really pick up random books any more because I have so many books on my TBR already and THERE IS NO TIME, but I just had to make an exception. Look how pretty! These books were my childhood. I have vivid memories of my mom reading them to me when I was sick. (And in one of the copies, in the endpapers, my teenage mother had essentially written fanfic Mary-Sueing herself into Nancy's world, calling herself "Barbara Drew, Nancy Drew's Cousin". Oh my God, I need to find that copy so I can read it again with new appreciation.) I would tell anyone I met who seemed even remotely interested in my life or activities that Nancy Drew books were my favorite, and which book I was currently on, fully expecting them to match my levels of enthusiasm (they never did). So yeah, I was disappointed by this book. Girl Sleuth is a competently written biography of the two women who most shaped Nancy: Mildred Wirt, her first ghostwriter, and Harriet Adams, nee Stratemeyer. I was interested in the book at first, because it details a period of history that I find intriguing, as well as the influence of Harriet's father, Edward Stratemeyer, who essentially invented book packaging companies, and whose books dominated the dime novel market for decades. But as the book went it on, it became apparent that the author just was not skilled enough to do more than reiterate the information exactly as it happened, and in chronological order. There isn't really a *style* to this book, and it quickly became a dull read for me, despite being entirely made up material I should have wanted to devour: women working in traditionally male jobs, the publishing industry, the creation of the books, the ways that Nancy Drew evolved over time (feminism, the fifties, etc), and the public battle between Margaret and Harriet over who took credit for Nancy's creation . . . but none of it was organized in a way that made the information interesting. It was SO DRY. I don't recommend this book as anything more than a source of information if you're interested in any of the topics it covers. You will most likely be disappointed by it otherwise. Reading it has reminded me, though, that I still haven't finished the original Nancy Drew books. I have two left, and I've been saving them for years, as some sort of sentimental OCD weirdness where my brain thinks, I don't know, that if I don't read them I won't die? But I really need to get on it. I'd also like to revisit some of my favorites from the series, but they are all currently boxed up in my mom's garage. She probably won't notice if the next time I'm there if those boxes somehow migrate to my car . . . [2.5 stars]

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    "Grab your magnifying glass, because this is a mystery story." That's the first sentence of the book, and it was all it took to convince me that this book was absolutely something I'd want to read. For the most part, the book didn't quite live up to this particular promise. It's not a mystery at all. But it turned out to be something even better. Not just a history of the Nancy Drew stories and their place in our culture, but also the story of women in the twentieth century. Everything from the W "Grab your magnifying glass, because this is a mystery story." That's the first sentence of the book, and it was all it took to convince me that this book was absolutely something I'd want to read. For the most part, the book didn't quite live up to this particular promise. It's not a mystery at all. But it turned out to be something even better. Not just a history of the Nancy Drew stories and their place in our culture, but also the story of women in the twentieth century. Everything from the Wellesley College experience at the beginning of the century, to the roaring twenties, to Rosie the Riveter and the housewives of the 1950s, and so on. I also loved reading about the subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes in Nancy's persona. And of course, the lives of Harriet Adams and Mildred Wirt, the two ladies most responsible for the series. All in all, I read this almost as quickly as I'd have read a Nancy Drew book back when I was a kid (though I always preferred the more modern "Case Files of Nancy Drew" to the classic stories).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sophia

    Nearly every American girl and some American boys, 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 ask Nearly every American girl and some American boys, 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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    C.

    “Girl Sleuth” isn’t trivia and entrenches us far more thoroughly than a biography. Edward Stratemeyer had more ideas than he could write. A tobacconist’s son, he could afford to open a company for them. At a few cents each, he struck a royalty deal with a publisher in the late 1800s, Grosset & Dunlop. The notion of adventure literature made for children is a tidal wave that arrived later. Even through wars and a depression, his series were in the right position to prosper. Edward needed his crud “Girl Sleuth” isn’t trivia and entrenches us far more thoroughly than a biography. Edward Stratemeyer had more ideas than he could write. A tobacconist’s son, he could afford to open a company for them. At a few cents each, he struck a royalty deal with a publisher in the late 1800s, Grosset & Dunlop. The notion of adventure literature made for children is a tidal wave that arrived later. Even through wars and a depression, his series were in the right position to prosper. Edward needed his crude plot ideas poured into the full story volumes his publisher demanded. Mildred Augustine Wirt answered his advertisement to author “The Dana Girls”. She was so talented and courteous, he offered her Nancy Drew in 1930. They worked out the first novel, he approved the third with mild adjustments, and loved the second so much; her manuscript of “The Hidden Staircase” was kept entirely. That happens to be my favourite so far! This trio was released and Edward sketched two more plots. He approved Mildred’s fourth manuscript in bed and then died. His daughters, Edna & Harriet couldn’t sell a company in a depression. What they did was unheard of: they ran it. The tricky part? The outline-to-author process was secret. One secretary knew the ropes. In Ohio, USA, Mildred had a story too; validated by this spotlight Melanie Rehak’s essay shines on it. Letters between Edward, Harriet, Edna, Mildred, organized against the United States’ historical climates, show us why Nancy Drew continually endured personal and national struggles; everywhere but on-screen. What an undertaking! It only lacks Melanie’s 2002 flight. I would love for her to share what got her to Ohio... 3 months after Mildred died at 96! Mildred helps Melanie explain why there are two Nancy Drews: to thorough, personal depths.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Macjest

    Absolutely fascinating read! I know that many of us got started with Nancy Drew before moving over to Trixie Belden. This book gives the whole history behind Nancy, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, the Dana Girls and a whole host of other books many of us grew up with. Believe it or not, Nancy Drew and the above all started out as 50¢ pulp books. The early books were churned out as quickly as possible so that the author could earn $100-125 per book. (The author had to sign away their rights by Absolutely fascinating read! I know that many of us got started with Nancy Drew before moving over to Trixie Belden. This book gives the whole history behind Nancy, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, the Dana Girls and a whole host of other books many of us grew up with. Believe it or not, Nancy Drew and the above all started out as 50¢ pulp books. The early books were churned out as quickly as possible so that the author could earn $100-125 per book. (The author had to sign away their rights by the way.) Also, the reason behind the difference between the early Nancy Drew and the yellow hard cover most of us read had to do with correcting them to make them more PC. However, in so doing, the books were also shortened considerably with whole scenes chopped out often leading to disjointed reading. A good deal of the book delves into the background of the two women who did most of the writing. This is actually quite interesting as it is also a very good history lesson. Women's rights, the crash of 1929, the effect of the war on book publishing, and a look at our nation's history through the lives of these two women are just some of the topics touched on. The original author Mildred Wirt Benson could easily have been an inspiration for Trixie though. She despised sewing, was very athletic, and she read Peter Rabbit too. Since the book was published in 2005, it also deals with modern day Nancy including the tv show and the more recent incarnations of the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A.G.

    This was a nostalgic read for me because I had read a number of Nancy Drew books as a young girl (as well as some Hardy Boy books). This is an interesting book about the Stratemeyer family and the Stratemeyer Syndicate responsible for writing and for the ghost writing of these children's books. The author, Melanie Rehak, gave the background history of the creation of this girl sleuth and how the Stratemeyer Syndicate, established by Edward Stratemeyer, was continued by his daughters, Harriet Str This was a nostalgic read for me because I had read a number of Nancy Drew books as a young girl (as well as some Hardy Boy books). This is an interesting book about the Stratemeyer family and the Stratemeyer Syndicate responsible for writing and for the ghost writing of these children's books. The author, Melanie Rehak, gave the background history of the creation of this girl sleuth and how the Stratemeyer Syndicate, established by Edward Stratemeyer, was continued by his daughters, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, and Edna Stratemeyer Squier, althought Harriet was the true pioneer in continuing her father's legacy. Realizing that Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon were really pseudonyms for the authors of these series, I hadn't known that there were a number of ghost writers behind the names, especially the earliest books ghost written by Mildred Wirt Benson who wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew books. Rehak also describes the relationship with the publishers and the Syndicate and how the Nancy Drew character and stories had to change over the course of their publication since the 1930's, as historical events and the women's movement created a new and different sensibility to readers. The "original series" ended in 2003 followed by "more contemporary" series titled Nancy Drew: Girl Detective and the Nancy Drew Diaries which were less successful.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melody Schwarting

    Like so many other budding bookaholics, I grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. To this day, the titles still tantalize—The Secret of the Old Clock, The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion, The Secret in the Old Lace. It makes me want to pull out a magnifying glass, hop in a roadster, and drive into the mist. If there is an Aesthetic™ called NancyDrewTitleCore, I’m there. Girl Sleut is a history of Nancy Drew, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, and the ghostwriters who were Carolyn Keene. The Stratemeyer Like so many other budding bookaholics, I grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. To this day, the titles still tantalize—The Secret of the Old Clock, The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion, The Secret in the Old Lace. It makes me want to pull out a magnifying glass, hop in a roadster, and drive into the mist. If there is an Aesthetic™ called NancyDrewTitleCore, I’m there. Girl Sleut is a history of Nancy Drew, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, and the ghostwriters who were Carolyn Keene. The Stratemeyer Syndicate published through Grosset & Dunlap, and later, Simon & Schuster. It was a ghostwriting organization, founded by Edward Stratemeyer, who was not so much a writer as a book-plotter and businessman. He dreamt up, and plotted out, children’s series, handing them off to ghostwriters. He had the final say on edits and sent the manuscripts to publishers. The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew Mystery Stories were all his brainchildren. Decades after his death, The Happy Hollisters were also written by the syndicate. Nancy Drew was first published in 1930, only months after Stratemeyer’s death. He had created the character and plotted her first three novels, and chosen the first ghostwriter, Mildred A. Wirt. After Stratemeyer died, his daughters, Harriet and Edna, took over the business. Harriet was the primary force behind the Stratemeyer Syndicate until her death. The company endured the Great Depression with flying colors, and Nancy Drew continued as a mainstay in children’s literature through the turbulence of the twentieth century, and lives on into the twenty-first. Girl Sleuth is not so much a book about the Nancy Drew books as it is about the women who created her (hence the subtitle) and the publishing culture that saw her through. There’s very little literary criticism, but there’s a lot of firsthand material from Harriet and Mildred, fan mail, and details from legal disputes. While I wish there was more context about the literary culture of the day, and a deeper look into the “golden age” of detective stories in which Nancy Drew was born, I did enjoy sipping the tea of publishing drama and the turbulence behind the placid adventure stories. For me, Girl Sleuth had two primary failings. First, Rehak (or her editors) seemed more interested in charting the history of women’s rights in America than literary history. Way, way, way too much information about American women and the right to vote and such things were included in this book. Girl Sleuth functions as a biography of Nancy Drew’s primary ghostwriters. All historical context provided in biographies should relate directly to the subject. For example, a biography of Elizabeth II of England would not need to include a complete history of the workhouse system just to make a few notes about how the remnants of that existed during her early reign. A biography of Elizabeth I, or Victoria, would be remiss without such information. Girl Sleuth ropes in Abigail Adams, Lucretia Mott, and Teddy Roosevelt just to get around to Harriet’s participation in a suffragette group in her college years. Primarily, this is a problem early in the book (which could prevent many readers from finishing it). Rehak is surprisingly sparing in detail about the Great Depression, but goes to great lengths to illuminate the culture of working women during WWII. This, however, is relevant, since both Mildred and Harriet struggled with home and work during these years, writing about them to each other and to their friends. Mostly, when you come to a preachy historical section, just skip it until you see the biographical subjects’ names pop up again. You’re not missing anything you don’t already know, except a few mildly interesting factoids. The second failing is that Rehak takes sides. She is a very partial observer of the relationship between Harriet and Edna, even from their early childhood, which is unjust and annoying. Harriet and Mildred are treated with a bit more fairness, mostly because Rehak will be on one woman’s side in X chapter and on the other’s in Y chapter. This could have been avoided by not taking sides at all, nor making moral judgments about the women’s chosen method of expression. Rehak did a fine job exploring the racism in the early books and how it was “solved:” making all the contested BIPOC characters white, which is a racist solution to a racist problem. Since I’m always complaining about how race is (mis)handled in books, I was glad to see someone handling it well, not dismissing it as irrelevant nor shying away from a necessary discussion. I am curious to see if further revised copies of Nancy Drew appear in the future, or if we will keep getting "modernized" spinoffs that wreak havoc on the character. None of them have succeeded with a penny's worth of the success of the original series. Yet, the racism just....isn't integral to the story, and could be excised. Overall, I enjoyed learning the history of Nancy Drew, and it got me nostalgic for the books again. I read them growing up, my mom did, and I wouldn't be surprised if my grandmothers did. Evidently, Nancy Drew's reputation as “literary fluff” has existed since her debut. What’s wrong with a little fluff every once in a while? Nancy Drew is a hardworking, steady, intelligent individual with a love for solving mysteries, finding the truth, and setting things to rights. I must say, I feel a detective-like elation in historical research when I find just the right nugget for a project. Not every book has to be a serious, weighty “classic” to be edifying. Good fun is edifying. And Nancy Drew is some of the best fun of all.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Robin Tobin (On the back porch reading)

    Wow I never knew!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Hunter

    Somewhere in this book- I can't find the exact quote now- Rehnak notes that many of the adults in the late seventies and eighties who grew up reading Nancy Drew, and then gifted the book to their children, remember few actual details about the text beyond identifying strongly with Nancy herself. This perfectly describes my relationship to the series, which I'm sure I spent a lot of time reading, but I don't remember well enough to describe any particular plot or even any of the characters beyond Somewhere in this book- I can't find the exact quote now- Rehnak notes that many of the adults in the late seventies and eighties who grew up reading Nancy Drew, and then gifted the book to their children, remember few actual details about the text beyond identifying strongly with Nancy herself. This perfectly describes my relationship to the series, which I'm sure I spent a lot of time reading, but I don't remember well enough to describe any particular plot or even any of the characters beyond Nancy Drew. I was surprised, then, at how engrossing this book was; I don't have any particular interest in Nancy Drew beyond remembering it vaguely and fondly as something I must have liked as a child (and something I remember that my mother liked when she was a child). Rehak manages to describe and illustrate the conflicts between the various women (and men) who were involved in ghost writing, editing, marketing, and profitting from Nancy, without the use of unnecessary drama or catty stereotypes of women in business. The relationships between these people and their own interests and reasons why they worked so hard on Nancy Drew are complicated and change frequently through the decades. I came away from this book amazed at how much a relationship can change from the thirties to the eighties, a time span of about fifty years. Another neat thing that you realize through reading this book is how much changes in technology forced those relationship changes as well; for example, all the writers of Nancy Drew were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they would never reveal themselves as the author of the books, but the original author of Nancy Drew does so several times in the Toledo Blade. Because of the way media operated at the time, there was no way that someone living in New York or California could get ahold of the Blade and read it and realize that Carolyn Keene was in fact a newspaper reporter in Ohio, relatively anonymity persisted, despite the author's frequent admissions of herself as the writer. However, in the late seventies, when the owner of the syndicate starts taking credit for authorship of all the Nancy Drews, other people begin to catch on to the fact that there are several Carolyn Keene's claiming authorship. This book isn't entirely about relationships though. Rehak also devotes some time to discussing how various social or political changes did or did not affect the books. I had no idea that the books were all rewritten during the Civil Rights era because parents were writing letters to the publisher saying that they would not be purchasing them for their children because they were too racist. Rehak points out that in the revisions, people of color were simply removed from the story, which does not actually address the problem of racism in the books. However, as someone concerned with racism in children's media today, I have never really had proof that you can force any kind of change to happen by doing something like writing into publishers and participating in an informal boycott. I like how Rehak presents this story as something that isn't neat and orderly- it's clear that the Civil Rights era revisions also eliminated many of the personality quirks that readers had grown to love about Nancy, and they resulted in children reading different books than the ones their parents remembered. Throughout the book, Rehak manages to illustrate conflict in these sorts of stories without any kind of moral pronouncement, which in this case I really appreciate. As I said before, this so easily could have been a book about catty businesswomen, and instead it is about real, complicated, imperfect people who sometimes do the right thing, and sometimes don't, and sometimes, the right thing isn't even all that clear. Her writing is well paced and engaging, without being superficial, which I appreciate. If you're interested in feminism, American history, literature, cultural studies, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or the Bobbsey twins, this book is well worth your time.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cormac Zoso

    Having been far more a Nancy Drew fan when I was young than a fan of the Hardy Boys (being male everyone pushed Hardy Boys on me ... but really, I found them boring compared to that sparkling Nancy Drew lol), I always assumed that Carolyn Keene was the sole and loving author of all those mysteries and that she perhaps was writing them from overblown memories or wanted-fantasies from her own childhood with her friends. I stumbled upon this book on a discount table and snapped it up for a couple o Having been far more a Nancy Drew fan when I was young than a fan of the Hardy Boys (being male everyone pushed Hardy Boys on me ... but really, I found them boring compared to that sparkling Nancy Drew lol), I always assumed that Carolyn Keene was the sole and loving author of all those mysteries and that she perhaps was writing them from overblown memories or wanted-fantasies from her own childhood with her friends. I stumbled upon this book on a discount table and snapped it up for a couple of dollars and was shocked to find that it was a 'corporation' that authored the books. Once Melanie Rehak starts listing up the differences in Nancy and her friends looks, cars, etc, you begin to get the impression that it wasn't too carefully managed at times either. But for Nancy Drew fans, where else can one turn for a full and heartfelt history of this great series, despite its inconsistencies. The first thing I did when I had a granddaughter was buy an entire set for her ... she'll soon start reading them and I'll be anxious to see if they can still tantalize and fascinate as they did many many years ago. I'll then give her this book to read some time down the road when she needs to read a book for a report in school. The 'facts' in this book didn't ruin one feeling for the series for me and I don't think it will for anyone else either.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rachael

    When I was young my grandma had an entire bookshelf of Bobbsey twins, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew books. And not just series novels, the ORIGINAL series novels. So I got the pleasure of reading the classic, original Nancy Drews growing up. So it was a trill that this novel also tied in the histories of all my favorite childhood series, not my favorite girl detective. I have to admit I was annoyed while reading the first 115 pages for a few reasons. First of, though it built the foundation for Nanc When I was young my grandma had an entire bookshelf of Bobbsey twins, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew books. And not just series novels, the ORIGINAL series novels. So I got the pleasure of reading the classic, original Nancy Drews growing up. So it was a trill that this novel also tied in the histories of all my favorite childhood series, not my favorite girl detective. I have to admit I was annoyed while reading the first 115 pages for a few reasons. First of, though it built the foundation for Nancy, it was hard to see how the story connected to Nancy while I read it. Secondly, sometimes I felt like the author had some kind of page count she had to meet because she was far too detailed about the historical events the occurred during the time, like the presidential inauguration during women's suffrage for example. What I loved about this book is you really feel like Melanie gathered all the facts, especially a balance between Harriet and Mildred's stories. Very thorough and readable history of Nancy's origins and the women who created her. Must-read for any Nancy Drew fan.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I love reading mysteries, and it must be in part because I loved Nancy Drew mysteries as a young reader. I am old enough and have old enough relatives that I have read many of the "original" earlier versions and will now go back and reread a couple. I knew there was no real Carolyn Keene but did not know the depth and breadth of the Syndicate that created, wrote and published all those books as well as Hardy Boys and other series. There was lots of detail, sometimes a bit too much, but the manne I love reading mysteries, and it must be in part because I loved Nancy Drew mysteries as a young reader. I am old enough and have old enough relatives that I have read many of the "original" earlier versions and will now go back and reread a couple. I knew there was no real Carolyn Keene but did not know the depth and breadth of the Syndicate that created, wrote and published all those books as well as Hardy Boys and other series. There was lots of detail, sometimes a bit too much, but the manner in which Nancy's history is interspersed with history of the times (WWII, the women's movement, and the depression) and how that all impacted the books and their development was interesting. Had no idea of the histories of the two main women involved in Nancy's development. Too, I am a librarian, and the low esteem that many series books hold in many librarian minds has always been an issue with me. Anyway, very interesting social and literary history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    I love stuff like this.

  18. 5 out of 5

    The Story Girl

    I saw this book on Marie's goodreads page, so I decided to check it out from the library because I loved Nancy Drew when I was in the fifth grade. It started out okay, but I ended up only liking the historical parts of it, and started skimming the parts about "the women who created her" because I just wasn't interested. Edward Stratemeyer started a lucrative syndicate, came up with the idea for Nancy Drew (I think?). When he died, his daughter Harriet outlined the books, while Mildred wrote most I saw this book on Marie's goodreads page, so I decided to check it out from the library because I loved Nancy Drew when I was in the fifth grade. It started out okay, but I ended up only liking the historical parts of it, and started skimming the parts about "the women who created her" because I just wasn't interested. Edward Stratemeyer started a lucrative syndicate, came up with the idea for Nancy Drew (I think?). When he died, his daughter Harriet outlined the books, while Mildred wrote most of them. That's about it. Insert some problems here. I loved it only because it included a lot about the history of feminism. Towards the end of the book, I started typing up some of the passages on history, and they are included here. Quotes: "Back in the real world, Americans were eager to do all they could to help the war effort. They gladly paid the enormous income tax increases that Roosevelt initiated in 1942 in order to help pay for the war. Until then, only about 5 percent of Americans had paid the income tax, with the highest rate, 75 percent, applying to people with wealth in excess of $5 million. Now anyone who made more than $624 a year was subject to a 5 percent "Victory Tax." In 1943 the payroll tax - or the "pay as you go" plan - was instituted for millions of middle-class Americans, who had no choice but to pay it even as they saved scrap metal and paper and did everything else their government asked of them." p.202 --- "But teenagers, like the rest of the country, were all too aware of the war. As one girl asked her mother, 'What did the news [on the radio] have to talk about when a war was not going on?' Another wanted to know, 'Has there always been war? Has there even been other news besides war news?' Uncensored images of the dead and wounded in magazines like Life also brought the news to them, and for the first time, their parents - even their devoted mothers - could not shield them from it. If they went to the movies with their pals on a Saturday afternoon, there might be a cartoon before the main picture, but it could just as easily be a newsrell about the fighting overseas. Part of the reason their mothers could not watch out for them quite as carefully as they might previously have done, of course, was because the war had sent women out to work in numbers never before seen. In 1942 military orders to factories alone totaled $100 billion, and by the end of war, the number had reached $330 billion. By 1944 the country was responsible for a staggering 40 percent of the world's arms production. When Great Britain could no longer afford to pay for its arsenal, Roosevelt created the Lend-Lease program to continue supplying them, even though it was clear to many that the debt could not possibly be repaid." p.210-211 --- "By the middle of the 1950s, 60 perent of women had dropped out of college to get married or because "they were afraid too much education would be a marriage bar." Higher education for women became merely a way station on the path to matrimony as the average marriage age dropped again to twenty and kept going down from there. As one Harvard graduate said about his wife in 1955, 'She can be independent on little things but the big decisions have to go my way. The marriage must be the most important thing that ever happened to her." One of his counterparts, a 1951 Radcliffe graduate, admitted, 'We married what we wanted to be. If we wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor we married one.' Rosie the Riveter traded in her overalls and head scarf for pointy bras and big hairstyles that were worn with full scratchy skirts and petticoats. Suburbs sprung up to house all these shiny new families, who, thanks to GI benefits that made it possible to start a family before husbands were even out of college, had more children sooner. According to one study of middle-class couples, 39 percent of them wanted at least four." page 226 --- "Indeed, the kids of 1950s America were a whole new breed. By the end of the decade, with allowance in their pockets and time to spare, they were spending $50 million a year on 45s of their favorite rock-and-roll songs alone. Gyrating in basements all through suburbia to the scandalous sounds of Elvis Presley, they ushered in a new age of permissiveness. What Calling All Girls had started, Seventeen magazine now perpetuated. With stories about cosmetics and fashion and boys, 'the publication that virtually invented the teenage girl' had been an immediate hit when it debuted in 1944. All four hundred thousand copies of its first issue sold out in two days, and a year later its circulation had broken one million. By the 1950s it was essential reading for the bobby-soxer set, who consulted it for information on everything from their favorite crooners to how big or short or stiff to wear their skirts. In addition to magazines, there was television, which had exploded on to the family scene and replaced radio as the most popular means of entertainment. I Love Lucy was first broadcast to great adoration in 1951, and The Mickey Mouse Club and Captain Kangaroo both debuted in 1955, followed by Leave it to Beaver and Perry Mason in 1957. By then, forty-one million American homes had television sets, and black-and-white was fast being replaced by color. When Dick Clark took over American Bandstand in 1956, American teenagers were hooked immediately, helping to seal television's dominance." page 239 --- "With the new fears [in 1959] about communism and nuclear bombs in the air, so the theory went, fantasy had falled by the wayside. Books had to describe "the 'here and now'... in which nothing happens except what happens every day, from alarm clock to applesauce," as one disapproving writer put it. "The fad reached some kind of climax," he groused, "when [an eminent psychiatrist] declared that in the atomic age it is wrong to teach children to believe in Santa Claus on the ground that they will refuse to 'think realistically' when they grow up." Newly attuned to the angst of their generation and worried about the future as they hid under their school desks during airraid drills, teenagers wanted books that dealt with their most delicate and all-consuming problems." pages 242-243 --- "The buildup to the civil rights movement had begun with Truman's own 1946 Committee on Civil Rights, formed to ensure that black Americans did not lose the progress they had made during the Depression and World War II... In 1954 the Supreme Court handed down the groundbreaking Brown v. the Board of Education decision. The following December in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of a bus. When, in the fall of 1947, the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High School in their hometown, to the dismay of thousands and accompanied by the National Guard, the civil rights movement gained a public teenaged face that energized it even further. Sit-ins at lunch counters followed, as did the creation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Then in 1962 James Meredith became the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, setting off riots that forced President Kennedy to send in federal troops. The center of the plush, post-war world was beginning to crumble, and America's young men and women were helping it along." pages 244-245 --- "Betty Fridan's impassioned writing [The Feminine Mystique], which gave voice at last to the many housewives who had lost their identities in the 1950s, spoke of a generation who had forone, among other things, the ideals of the teen sleuth. 'In 1960, the problem that has no name burst like a boil through the image of the happy American housewife,' Friedan wrote. Women were bored, lonely, and, worst of all, had forgotten how to live without a man. 'The year AMerican women's discontent boiled over, it was also reported that the more than 21,000,000 American women who are single, widowed, or divorced do not cease even after fifty their frenzied search for a man... the chains that bind her in her trap are chains in her own mind and spirit. They are chains made up of mistaken ideas and misinterpreted facts, of incomplete truths and unreal choices.'" pages 254-255

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I loved the Nancy Drew books growing up, and it was fascinating to learn what went on behind the scenes. This was well-researched and well-written, and I recommend it to all fans of the series.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    This was a fascinating read! I remember reading all the Nancy Drew books that my grandma had in her basement - which were originally my mom's- and thinking that Carolyn Keene was the greatest writer ever. To find out about the many authors who wrote these books made me want to read them all over again. This was a fascinating read! I remember reading all the Nancy Drew books that my grandma had in her basement - which were originally my mom's- and thinking that Carolyn Keene was the greatest writer ever. To find out about the many authors who wrote these books made me want to read them all over again.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mahlon

    3.5 Girl Sleuth tells the story Nancy Drew through biographies of the three people instrumental in creating and developing the series. Edward Stratemeyer, his daughter Harriet Adams, and Nancy's principal ghostwriter Mildred Benson. It also examines Nancy's cultural impact. This book was really well-written and is the first examination that I've read of the syndicate outside of more academic publications. This is a must read for anyone who ever held a flashlight underneath the covers in breathle 3.5 Girl Sleuth tells the story Nancy Drew through biographies of the three people instrumental in creating and developing the series. Edward Stratemeyer, his daughter Harriet Adams, and Nancy's principal ghostwriter Mildred Benson. It also examines Nancy's cultural impact. This book was really well-written and is the first examination that I've read of the syndicate outside of more academic publications. This is a must read for anyone who ever held a flashlight underneath the covers in breathless anticipation of the solution to a mystery. The quality of the writing demands four stars however there are grammatical mistakes in the Kindle edition that I just couldn't overlook.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tom Franklin

    An interesting look at the lives of the two women most responsible for the Nancy Drew books, as well as the father of one who created the character and ran the writing syndicate behind the Drew series (as well as The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, The Rover Boys and many others). The Stratemeyer Syndicate wrote brief outlines for the plots of the books and then bought the manuscripts outright from their writers. The books were then published under pseudonyms (and via contracts) that k An interesting look at the lives of the two women most responsible for the Nancy Drew books, as well as the father of one who created the character and ran the writing syndicate behind the Drew series (as well as The Hardy Boys, The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, The Rover Boys and many others). The Stratemeyer Syndicate wrote brief outlines for the plots of the books and then bought the manuscripts outright from their writers. The books were then published under pseudonyms (and via contracts) that kept the real authors completely hidden from the public's view. Rehak's book first charts the life of Edward Stratemeyer, the founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, through his rise in the publishing industry at the turn of the century. The majority of the book, however, follows the lives of Stratemeyer's eldest daughter, Harriet, and the principle author of the Nancy Drew books, Mildred Augustine. Both women were exceptional people and it's clear Rehak has considerable admiration for both. In the early 1910s and 1920s the two women were college educated, pushing themselves into the world of work (and, therefore, the world of men) and outside of society's norms. The story of Nancy Drew's development follows the lives of these two women. Mildred's life was rarely easy and often fiercely difficult; Harriet took control of the Syndicate after her father's death and became one of the few women heading a major company in America during the Great Depression. While Edward, then Harriet, wrote the outlines of the Nancy Drew books and then did the final edits of the completed manuscripts, it's clear that Mildred was the true driving force behind Nancy. It was Mildred who brought the character of Nancy to life and made her one of the most beloved characters in literature. As Nancy's popularity grew from generation to generation its not surprising that the 'ownership' of Nancy Drew would come into question. Harriet eventually took over the writing of the books (as a cost-savings measure) and then laid claim to being Carolyn Keene, conveniently leaving out Mildred's contribution as the writer of the first 20+ books. The end of the book explores the cultural implications of Nancy Drew and her emergence as an icon of the feminist movement. As well, it details the courtroom drama of the lawsuit that brought Harriet and Mildred's roles as authors of the Nancy books. As a reader of those first 20+ Nancy Drew books I am now a big fan of Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson, a woman who wrote manuscript after manuscript to keep herself and her family going through the Depression, through illness and through times that would make a lesser person break down and not get up again. For me, Mildred is the real hero of this book and she deserves to be remembered and appreciated.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey Bryant

    Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak is a must-read for anyone who is or has been an ardent fan of Nancy Drew, original or revised. It clears up the mystery of her authorship, the identity of pseudonym Carolyn Keene, the wide appeal of Nancy, and the differences between her old and new versions and when exactly she changed. It goes into all things Nancy Drew in pop culture. Beyond that, it gives a fascinating peek into the history of children’s book publishing i Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak is a must-read for anyone who is or has been an ardent fan of Nancy Drew, original or revised. It clears up the mystery of her authorship, the identity of pseudonym Carolyn Keene, the wide appeal of Nancy, and the differences between her old and new versions and when exactly she changed. It goes into all things Nancy Drew in pop culture. Beyond that, it gives a fascinating peek into the history of children’s book publishing in America and into the lives of the people responsible for Nancy’s creation: Edward Stratemeyer, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, and Mildred Wirt Benson. The Stratemeyer Syndicate is the principal “character” of this book. Its inner workings were quite intriguing. It turns out Edward Stratemeyer was the hero behind many of the classic dime-novel characters—Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, the Rover boys, and so on—and all these series were written under pseudonyms. Some reading this probably already knew that, but I wasn’t aware of these books’ origins. The only thing I, personally, did not like about Girl Sleuth was the author’s feminist bias. Nancy Drew became an icon during the women’s lib movement of the 1960s and ’70s, even though the women who created her were conservative on that front (they were of the previous generation, after all). The author used Nancy Drew as a measuring rod and a jumping-off point to go into the history of feminism, even though the character herself was never intended as such a symbol. But, the cultural tie-ins were interesting, because American women did live through these attitudes and events. I found myself agreeing with Harriet S. Adams, one of Nancy’s creators, who though not a women’s libber believed that women have brains, rather than the author, who counted stay-at-home motherhood as an unfortunate setback to women’s advancement. So, it will make you think about the issue of feminism, but at the same time, I think you’ll be pleased with how Nancy is presented. (One warning: Toward the end, there are a couple of obscenities, because they are part of quotations.) (Disclaimer: Most of my readers view feminism the same way I do, but if you do not, it is not my intention to open up a discussion about it. Thanks!)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christina Baehr

    I picked this up on a whim at the local library. At times I skimmed it because I was less interested in a general history of changing social expectations of women in the 20th c (about which I know quite a bit already) than I was in learning about the fabulous Nancy Drew and then people who made her and protected her untarnished reputation for decades. I was really interested to discover that one reason for her success was that ND appealed to the sensibilities of both conservatives (she was chast I picked this up on a whim at the local library. At times I skimmed it because I was less interested in a general history of changing social expectations of women in the 20th c (about which I know quite a bit already) than I was in learning about the fabulous Nancy Drew and then people who made her and protected her untarnished reputation for decades. I was really interested to discover that one reason for her success was that ND appealed to the sensibilities of both conservatives (she was chaste, selfless, loved her dad) and progressives (she did men's work and did it well). Pretty much the only people who didn't like her were those humourless folk who thought America's youth should be raised on a ruthless diet of realism. Oh, the horror. Rehak is a firm feminist and this book is written from that worldview. There were two places where her commitment to relating a feminist narrative and the facts of the case obviously didn't fit. One was the book's subtitle, which informs us that "women" created Nancy Drew. This one's understandable because the book is indeed about two remarkable women who were absolutely instrumental in the formation and maintenance of ND as a character and as a cultural icon, but really she was 'created' by the father of one of those women - the prolific and remarkable Edward Stratemeyer - which indeed the book makes clear. The other problem is that the two women's lives don't really fit the feminist narrative very well. Both of them were morally traditional, middle class women who were loving wives and mothers and also keen business women. In fact, they both specifically rejected the label of feminist, which is a problem for Rehnak, but she skips over it as fast as she can. I would have appreciated if she had taken their actual views a bit more seriously. Other, minor beef: Nancy's hair is "Titian colored", not blond! But seriously, that cost this book half a star in my mind.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tori

    4.5 stars. I'm not sure why I can't give it 5 stars......, because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Maybe part of it's because the title annoys me...... the "women" who created her.....when the book relates the fact that a man was the one who came up with the original idea! I'm not big on non-fiction usually - but this story was so enthralling! Like many others, I loved Nancy Drew as a child, and was so interested to read about her history. I did not realize the controversy that surrounded her aut 4.5 stars. I'm not sure why I can't give it 5 stars......, because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Maybe part of it's because the title annoys me...... the "women" who created her.....when the book relates the fact that a man was the one who came up with the original idea! I'm not big on non-fiction usually - but this story was so enthralling! Like many others, I loved Nancy Drew as a child, and was so interested to read about her history. I did not realize the controversy that surrounded her authorship, nor did I realize all the changes she went through. I must say, I'm glad I had the opportunity to read the books before they turned into "fluff" in some of their re-issueings. This book paints a very detailed picture of the times. that's something I'm appreciating more and more now - being able to look at an event and see what was going on in the world that influenced it. Nancy really did mirror the changes women were going through, both in fashion and independence. the books mirrored current trends in thought at times. One of the ND authors spoke of not wanting to insult the intelligence of young girls by writing down to them. I like that goal. Nancy continually rose to the challenge of every situation she encountered. who wouldn't want to be like her?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessaka

    This is an interesting book, but in the beginning there were two chapters that I found to be boring, after that' I really enjoyed the book and how the Nancy Drew series came about, also I didn't realize how many other children's books were written by this company. It makes me want to find and read a few, like The Rover Boys and The Motor Girls. I really felt that the company made a mistake by telling Mildred Wilt that they couldn't pay her as much during the Depression because she was the best w This is an interesting book, but in the beginning there were two chapters that I found to be boring, after that' I really enjoyed the book and how the Nancy Drew series came about, also I didn't realize how many other children's books were written by this company. It makes me want to find and read a few, like The Rover Boys and The Motor Girls. I really felt that the company made a mistake by telling Mildred Wilt that they couldn't pay her as much during the Depression because she was the best writer of them all. And then after 1959 or so the books were all edited and were not to my liking. So whenever I have bought Nancy Drew of Dana Sister books I have always bought the older ones, and now I have them all, at least all the ones I wanted. Even the Hardy Boys with the various writers have their good and bad books. First time I read the Hardy Boys I didn't want to read any more, and then one day I found another old book that was cheap enough to spend the money on and found I really enjoyed it. Now is to only get those by the good writers. But anyone who loved or loves the series would really enjoy this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    As a child I had found the original Nancy Drews in my grandmother's basement. They had belonged to my aunt and my mother, and I read through them eagerly. When my grandmother died my mother gave me the books, and when my kids, a girl and boy, were probably 6 and 4, or 7 and 5, I began reading the books to them and we went through "all" of the original series, replacing a few that were missing with the "updated" versions. I really love Nancy Drew, her "skillful" driving, perfection, her knack for As a child I had found the original Nancy Drews in my grandmother's basement. They had belonged to my aunt and my mother, and I read through them eagerly. When my grandmother died my mother gave me the books, and when my kids, a girl and boy, were probably 6 and 4, or 7 and 5, I began reading the books to them and we went through "all" of the original series, replacing a few that were missing with the "updated" versions. I really love Nancy Drew, her "skillful" driving, perfection, her knack for finding or receiving the needed clue or confession at just the right time, and even her motherlessness included. The kids and I would remark, "How handy!" when things worked out just right yet again for Nancy. I guess I didn't love this book about Nancy because it was more about the women who wrote her and the times during which they wrote - which was from the 1930s until the early 2000s and so a huge time period. Still it was enjoyable and informative enough and maybe most importantly it did nothing to diminish my Nancy love. And I'm saving it for my daughter and my mother, just like the Nancys.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I love that the history of Nancy Drew has a bit of mystery and intrigue in it, given how the pseudonym “Caroline Keene” encompassed at least 3 writers over the years. I had forgotten how much I loved these stories when I was young and just the names “George and Bess” and "Ned Nickerson" were enough to bring up memories of stories about hidden heirlooms, secret passageways and mysterious disappearances. All solved by a smart, brave young woman who I looked up to. This book connected the events of I love that the history of Nancy Drew has a bit of mystery and intrigue in it, given how the pseudonym “Caroline Keene” encompassed at least 3 writers over the years. I had forgotten how much I loved these stories when I was young and just the names “George and Bess” and "Ned Nickerson" were enough to bring up memories of stories about hidden heirlooms, secret passageways and mysterious disappearances. All solved by a smart, brave young woman who I looked up to. This book connected the events of the time Nancy Drew was conceived (wars, women's suffrage, the advent of radio and television) to the spirit of the young detective and it was a lot of fun to read. I look forward to seeing more by this author.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Renae

    An overnight success upon her 1930 debut, the character of Nancy Drew has continued to be popular among young readers for almost a century. In spite of changing times and the unique tastes of successive generations, Nancy has remained popular. As someone who clearly remembers—and still has—the Nancy Drew starter set her parents gave her at the age of five, Melanie Rehak's investigation into the history and people behind the mystery series was of immediate interest. Overall, I found Girl Sleuth t An overnight success upon her 1930 debut, the character of Nancy Drew has continued to be popular among young readers for almost a century. In spite of changing times and the unique tastes of successive generations, Nancy has remained popular. As someone who clearly remembers—and still has—the Nancy Drew starter set her parents gave her at the age of five, Melanie Rehak's investigation into the history and people behind the mystery series was of immediate interest. Overall, I found Girl Sleuth to be well-written, informative, and enjoyable.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sybil Johnson

    This is a great book if you're interested in the history of the Nancy Drew series. It details the series from its inception to pretty much current time, focusing on the two women most responsible for developing the series. The first bit that deals with their background I admit to being a little slow for me, though it's still interesting to see what women had to deal with in the early 20th century. The book picked up once the focus was turned to the series. A must-read for anyone who is a Nancy D This is a great book if you're interested in the history of the Nancy Drew series. It details the series from its inception to pretty much current time, focusing on the two women most responsible for developing the series. The first bit that deals with their background I admit to being a little slow for me, though it's still interesting to see what women had to deal with in the early 20th century. The book picked up once the focus was turned to the series. A must-read for anyone who is a Nancy Drew fan.

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