By Katryn Bury
I was home sick when my mother first handed me a Nancy Drew book. It wasn’t the first time I was missing school, and it wouldn’t be the last. In fact, I’d been stretching my allotted absences to the limit that particular year in fourth grade. I wasn’t sick every time I gave my parents that look—the pitiful “I don’t feel so good” look that meant I would stay home for the day. They knew it and I knew it: some days I only wanted to stay home and read books.
Going to school meant watching the kids around me playing sports and having fun while I sat, benched, with a ream of crackers in one hand and an asthma inhaler in the other. Staying home meant I could be with my friends: Amelia Bedelia, Claudia Kishi and Stacey McGill from The Babysitter’s Club, or Elizabeth Wakefield from Sweet Valley Twins. Back in those days, I preferred contemporary books about real people, avoiding books that had too many adventures. As a sick kid, I thought I could never be part of that world.
Until Nancy Drew, that is.
That girl detective, always globetrotting and solving mysteries with her best friends, changed my entire world. In these mystery stories, I saw girls who didn’t need strong muscles, or a naturally fit physique, to have adventures. Nancy, Bess, and George used their brains over brawn to solve mysteries. Growing up in the eighties, I hadn’t seen that. Sick kids in books were often relegated to their beds, written to an untimely demise that enriches the main character’s story. Nancy and her friends weren’t always the strongest. They weren’t always the bravest. But they still forged on to solve the mystery. Nancy, Bess and George showed me that you could be afraid, and still do the thing.
Reading Nancy Drew, I truly felt as though I was along for the ride. I would pick up clues, trying to piece together the mystery before the book’s end. And I was often right! Along with Nancy and her friends, I learned that I didn’t have to fit the mold of a “perfect girl.” Nancy herself was headstrong and sometimes overly pragmatic—a far cry from the typical nurturing and emotional girl character. George Fayne preferred to use a typical “boy” name, avoided dresses, and practiced Judo. Bess Marvin was both fat and beautiful—something I never saw in the media at that time. In spite of Bess rarely being depicted accurately on the book covers or illustrations, and many problematic tropes weaved into her storylines, I still felt as though my body could be beautiful after reading those books.
Even when I couldn’t leave my bed, I had hundreds of adventures with Nancy Drew and her friends. Having that was life-changing in a way that’s hard to explain. But, I will say this: I still collect Nancy Drew books to this day. Every time a new book comes out, I’m the first to read it. I’ve loved everything from the older titles to the more modern takes. These days, George’s name and wardrobe don’t need an explanation, Bess can fix a car as easily as she can flirt with a suspect, and Nancy has traded her trademark blue roadster for a Prius. The fact that Nancy Drew can be so easily transplanted into our modern world shows just how timeless the character is.
When I wrote Drew Leclair Gets a Clue, named for Nancy Drew by a mystery-loving father, I wanted kids to feel the way I did reading Nancy Drew for the first time. My main character, Drew, has more than one chronic illness. She also has a lot of anxiety. But that doesn’t stop her from a fascination with crime that pushes her to solve the mysteries around her. Drew uses her mind to solve the crime, like Nancy. In writing this book, I hope that kids see themselves, and know that they can have adventures too.
Nancy Drew sparked a lifelong devotion to mystery and crime that has stayed with me for my whole life. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude. I’m hoping that, with Drew Leclair Gets a Clue, I can show that gratitude in the best form: a story.
Drew Leclair Gets a Clue by Katryn Bury is out now.
Katryn Bury works with middle grade readers as a youth library technician. A lifelong true crime nerd, she has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminology. Her short and serialized fiction can be found in Suspense Magazine and The Sleuth. She lives in Oakland, California with her family and a vast collection of Nancy Drew mysteries. katrynbury.com |