Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Girl Detectives

The sinuses have relented somewhat. I'm not sure what it was yesterday, but I was totally loopy, and I was only taking decongestants, not allergy drugs. In a way, that was good for the brainstorming because my thinking wasn't entirely linear. It's a good thing I wasn't trying to actually write, though. I think some of the problem may have been that the one-sided sinus pressure threw my equilibrium off, and it also disrupts sleep, so I was tired. I have to get a little more analytical today, so I hope I can focus better.

I had a regular commentpalooza on the Blogger edition of my blog (I post the same content at LiveJournal, at Blogger, at MySpace and at Facebook, so you can read it wherever it best suits you) regarding the mention of favorite teen sleuths in the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview last week. I don't know if any of y'all decided to stick around, but I was amazed at one thing:

How deprived are so many people to have not heard of Trixie Belden?

Nancy Drew got all the hype, but Trixie was ultimately a lot more fun, I think. Too bad she's a little harder to find.

I did start out with Nancy Drew, somewhere in second or third grade. When I was a kid, a lot of my reading choices were driven by the obsession of the day. I'd go to the library and work my way around the room (the fiction was shelved around the perimeter of the children's section), checking out all the books with a title or cover that reminded me of the current obsession. For a while, the obsession was witches and magic, either from a fantasy sense or a historic sense, thanks to the syndicated reruns of Bewitched that were mandatory viewing for all the girls in my neighborhood. That led me to a book calledThe Witch Tree Symbol, which, it turns out, wasn't about witches at all. It was a Nancy Drew mystery set in Amish country, and thus a new obsession started.

I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on. At first, I was trying to read them in order, then I realized it didn't matter, aside from the mention early in the book of the most recent case and the mention late in the book of what the next case would be. But then when I got a little older (like, third grade), a few things started to bug me. For one thing, Nancy was a bit of a Mary Sue (not that I knew that term at the time). She was a little too perfect, a little too good at everything. She could dance ballet well enough to go under cover in a dance company (even though there had never been a previous mention of her going to the regular dance classes that requires). She could go under cover as a trapeze artist. She could play the bagpipes. Her friends mostly existed to point out how perfect Nancy was. There was the plump one, while Nancy was, of course, willowy slim, and the tomboyish or mannish one, while Nancy was ever so feminine. Then there was the fact that Nancy wasn't really doing anything with her life, other than accidentally stumbling into mysteries. She was eighteen and out of high school, but she didn't have a job, and she wasn't in college. She'd go to the college for various weekend trips to see her boring boyfriend, but she wasn't in school herself. She seemed smart enough to go to college, and her dad had the money to send her. So what was she doing with her life, waiting for Ned to graduate so she could then be a good little housewife? And that leads me to the final thing that made me lose interest in Nancy: her life was awfully static. She was always eighteen, in every one of those books (I guess that's why she wasn't in school or starting a career -- that must have been one hell of a year, with all those mysteries she got caught up in). Her friendships didn't really progress, and her relationship with Ned just sort of hovered there without developing at all. I don't recall us seeing her meet him or even learning how they met. He was just her boyfriend, and he existed only to take her to parties. They didn't seem to be going anywhere. For a while, I got caught up in what I now know was a futile effort to find the last Nancy Drew book so I could find out if anything happened in Nancy's life. Did she and Ned ever break up or get married? Did she decide to study criminal justice and go to college? Did Bess and George ever tell her what she could do with her Mary Sue self?

And then while looking for more mysteries, I found Trixie Belden, who was sort of the anti-Nancy. I'm hazy on details, as I only own two of the books and haven't read them in 30 years, but as I recall, Trixie's life progressed. In the early books, she was about twelve, and then she grew into her teens. Things changed around her, as her older brother became old enough to drive and the neighbor boy finished high school, and they occasionally incorporated new people into the cast instead of discarding them at the end of each book. She had a big family, lived on a farm in the Hudson Valley and had her own Scooby Gang of friends, complete with clubhouse in the carriage house of one of her friends' estates. She had a few useful skills from living on a farm, like horseback riding and having to be handy with animals and household repairs, but nothing to a full Mary Sue degree. Her friends all contributed to solving the mysteries in their own ways instead of just being props for Trixie. Best of all, the budding romantic relationship actually developed along the way. The guy started out as one of her early "cases," a homeless runaway being chased by an evil guardian, and then got adopted by her best friend's father and became part of the group -- such delicious teen angst! -- and her feelings for him gradually developed from a bit of "ugh, boys" to being intensely self-conscious around him and even a little flirting.

Now I want to go track down these books and see if they ever did resolve that relationship. I think I got sidetracked when Star Wars came along and I stopped reading things that didn't involve spaceships for a while.

My other favorite sleuth -- and these are kind of hard to find -- was Cherry Ames, a nurse who solved mysteries. She started as a student nurse, but then that chick seemed to have trouble holding a job because she had a different one in every book. She was a department store nurse who helped solve the case of a shoplifting ring, and then during the war she was a flight nurse for evacuating wounded soldiers, and I don't remember what other jobs she held. I think I mostly read those because one of my aunts was a nurse, and her formal nursing school portrait at my grandmother's house, complete with that white cap, looked a lot like the picture on the book covers.

On the TV front, just as I figured, I couldn't deal with Heroes. I watched the resolution of the cliffhanger, then decided I didn't care what else happened, and why watch it if I wasn't enjoying it, so I ended up watching DVDs of The Office.

1 comment:

Robyn said...

So, I've been lurking for awhile. In fact, I'm kinda feeling like the geeky kid at the back of the class too shy to raise my hand.

And just like the bizarre TV logic that makes the geeky boy decide to start by asking the cheerleader to prom (instead of maybe just saying hi), I've tagged you in my very first comment.

Play if you want to...