When I was in fifth grade, I loved Nancy Drew. She was the classic upper-middle-grade-girl heroine: high-school-aged, pretty and smart, with deductive powers that rivaled Sherlock Holmes. The fact that she had not one, but two, best friends, a handsome college-age boyfriend, and drove her own car didn’t hurt, either. I wanted to be Nancy Drew when I got older.
Needless to say, that didn’t come to pass. What did come to pass was that my beloved grandmother saw an ad for a subscription to the Nancy Drew Book Club and signed me up to receive two lavender colored double-volume hardbacks of classic Nancy Drew stories, once a month. I was in heaven, ensconced in the backseat with George Fayne and Bess Marvin as Nancy navigated mystery after mystery in her blue convertible. Although I eventually wised-up to the formulaic style and started to wish that Ned Nickerson would at least hold Nancy’s hand, I enjoyed the series well into middle school.
In seventh grade, whether because the special printing abruptly ended its run, or the company decided that twelve- to thirteen-year-old girls would no longer be interested in G-rated fare, the books were unexpectedly replaced with single volumes by an author I’d never even heard of, Betty Cavanna.
After working my way through the five stages of grief, I eyed the first installment with suspicion. A nice looking hardback, it had a montage of blue-green and pink images that included a prim looking Asian teenager, Jenny Kimura. Feeling slightly disloyal, I opened it up and started to read.
Wow! I had never read a book like that before. This teenaged girl was much more complex than Nancy or her friends, with internal thoughts and an active interest in boys. She was emotional, and had problems just like any other teenager. Jenny’s mother was Japanese, but her father wasn’t, and her maternal grandparents had never accepted the marriage. Jenny didn’t even know them, but for some reason, they invited her to spend the summer there. It was my first taste of YA.
When the next book arrived, I shamelessly devoured it. Then came Mystery of the Emerald Buddha, Mystery on Safari, Ruffles and Drums, Spice Island Mystery, and others. I followed teen protagonists to Brazil, Africa, Thailand, New York City, and Revolutionary War era Concord. Their boyfriends held hands with them — and kissed them, too — as the girls considered career choices, resolved interpersonal issues, and came to mature decisions that usually involved self-denial of some sort. All of the books involved romance, but they were really about coming-of-age moments and seeing past the world’s prejudices to find what truly matters.
Occasionally, I thought it odd that Grandma was sponsoring these (innocently) romantic adventure stories, but it wasn’t until the books stopped coming that I found out she just hadn’t noticed the switch when paying the bills. Born in the days of the Gibson Girl, she told me that she didn’t think the new books were appropriate for someone my age to read.
Fortunately, they didn’t mind at the library…
These days, the Nancy Drew series is still in print, but Betty Cavanna’s books are only obtainable through other sellers on Amazon, and most are former library copies (which means you won’t be finding them there, either). But, if you know a middle-school girl who finds the current YA fodder a little too intense, it’s worth the search.
* My apologies to subscribers – I accidentally hit the “publish” button rather than the “save draft” button (an irrevocable action) before I was finished writing this post. What you received in your email notification was that version, not the final seen here. 😦