Rehak, Melanie Entries


All those who, like me, ate up Nancy Drew books as kids, will love this intriguing real story behind the fictional sleuth. Although it does shatter the myth of "Carolyn Keene" (a pseudonym invented by Edward Stratemeyer, owner of the powerhouse Stratemeyer Syndicate), it replaces her with three even more satisfying women: Mildred Wirt, the ambitious tomboy from small-town Iowa who ghostwrote the Nancy Drew books for $85 to $125 per book, with no royalties or rights to her work; Harriet Otis Smith, secretary to Edward Stratemeyer who kept the Syndicate running at the beginning of the Great Depression; and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, who took over the Syndicate after her father's death and ran it with a firm if slightly paranoid hand, radically revising and shortening Nancy's adventures during the 1960's. I found the stories of the dynamics among the characters during shifting and difficult times, as well as the Stratemeyer system of outlining plots and shipping them off to ghostwriters, to be captivating.

I first learned the secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate from Carole Kismaric's The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and got the nitty-gritty background details from Diedre Johnson's Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but Girl Sleuth is by far the most thorough and engaging history of Nancy and her creators thus far. Melanie Rehak does a great job of outlining the pertinent historical framework and relating it back to the specific stories of individual women and men involved with Nancy's story. This is especially true when relating the history of feminism and anti-feminism in America to the evolution of Nancy Drew and her creators. Overall, very interesting and well-written.

June 2012

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link to Wolves 2011 reading list
link to more disgust bibliography