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Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her Hardcover – September 12, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The intrepid Nancy Drew has given girls a sense of their own power since she was born, Athena-like, from the mind of Edward Stratemeyer in 1929 and raised after his death in 1930 by his daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Mildred Wirt Benson, a journalist who was the first to write the novels under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Poet and critic Rehak invigorates all the players in the Drew story, and it's truly fun to see behind the scenes of the girl sleuth's creation, her transformation as different writers took on the series, and the publishing phenomenon—the highly productive Stratemeyer Syndicate machine—that made her possible. Rehak's most ambitious choice is to reflect on how Nancy Drew mirrors girls' lives and the ups and downs of the women's movement. This approach is compelling, but not particularly well executed. Rehak's breathless prose doesn't do justice to the complexity of the large social trends she describes, and tangents into Feminism 101 derail the story that really works—the life of a publishing juggernaut. All the same, Stratemeyer himself would undoubtedly say that the story is worth telling. Drew fans are likely to agree.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-As much a social history of the times as a book about the popular series, this is a fun title that will appeal to older teens who remember the series fondly. In 1930, she arrived in her shiny blue roadster and she has remained a part of the children's book scene ever since. While Nancy may have been the brainchild of Edward Stratemeyer, creator of the successful Stratemeyer Syndicate, it was the devotion of Harriet, his daughter, and syndicate writer Mildred Wirt Benson who brought her to life. The series succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams but things were not always peaceful in River Heights. Rehak does a good job of explaining the intricacies of the Stratemeyer Syndicate and the sometimes-rocky relationship between these two strong women, each of whom felt a sense of ownership of the girl detective. Those who followed the many adventures of Nancy Drew and her friends will be fascinated with the behind-the-scene stories of just who Carolyn Keene really was.-Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010417
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,119,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MELANIE REHAK is the author of Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid (2010) and Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her (2005), which won an Edgar Award and an Agatha Award. Rehak has written for the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Nation, and other periodicals. Her column on food books appears in Bookforum. You can learn more about her at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on September 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the 1950s my mother would take me with her while she shopped. Twice a month we would go to the variety store to buy fabric, kitchen supplies and other odd bits and pieces. While she shopped, I would head to a small but exciting corner of the store that housed a tiny bookstore of sorts. Eagerly I would search out the newest arrival of my favorite girl sleuth: Nancy Drew. It was a grand and exhilarating time for a young girl who dreamed of being a strong, smart young girl who solved exciting mysteries.

Nancy Drew is 75 years old and Melanie Rehak has written a comprehensive book on the most successful writing franchise ever. From what began as a kernel of an idea from the prolific Edward Stratemeyer (he also created the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys) we follow the beginnings of Nancy Drew and the creation of the author Carolyn Keene. Rehak takes us on an interesting journey of the two real-life women who authored the books, the cultural changes that required the books content to be edited over the years and other little known but fascinating items about Nancy Drew.

Millions of American girls have grown up on Nancy Drew. This book is the icing on the cake for Drew lovers who want to be in the know ....

Armchair Interviews says: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her is a fun read that will add pleasure to the fond memories of Nancy Drew you had as a child.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on December 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you had asked me, when I was twelve years old, who I wanted to be when I grew up, I wouldn't have hesitated an instant.

"I want to be Carolyn Keene!" I would have said. "I want to write Nancy Drew mysteries!"

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I picked up the phone one day in the mid-1980s and heard the question, like an echo of a nearly-forgotten dream, "Would you like to be Carolyn Keene?"

Would I like to be Carolyn Keene? Would I like to win the lottery, hang the moon, be queen for a day or a lifetime? Or as Nancy would say, "Now, that's the silliest question I've ever heard!" Of course I would love to be Carolyn Keene! I felt as if the universe had suddenly opened up and smiled straight down at me. I was about to join the magical, mystical, mysterious team of writers who created the most famous Girl Detective of all time. I was going to be Carolyn Keene!

As a result of that phone call, I wrote five Nancys and a pair of Hardy Boys, working alone or with my husband, Bill Albert. And as a result of that apprenticeship, I went on to be a writer of many other mysteries, a profession and a vocation that I am still happily pursuing twenty years later.

So it was as Carolyn Keene that I happily opened Melanie Rehak's biography of Nancy, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, and Mildred Wirt Benson--and I wasn't disappointed. Rehak's book begins with the first chapter of Nancy's adventures, with the story of Edward Stratemeyer, boy literary wizard and his remarkable children's book syndicate, which got underway with the Rover Boys (1895), carried on with the Bobbsey Twins (1904), and produced the Hardy Boys (1927) and Nancy Drew (1930).
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on September 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Melanie Rehak has written a very nice dual biography of Mildred Wirt Benson, the original ghostwriter of Nancy Drew, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, the daughter of the creator of the Stratemeyer Syndicate who took over running it after his death and eventually began writing Nancy Drew herself rather than just creating the outlines for the ghostwriter. It is somewhat pointless to discuss who the true Nancy Drew (or more properly, the true Carolyn Keene) because it obviously took a combination of factors to shape the world's most famous and beloved girl sleuth and the author of Girl Sleuth is adept at demonstrating this. The book is, at first, slow and feels puffed out a little in the beginning before the actual creation of Nancy Drew but when the star takes the stage the narrative speeds along through the changing decades. It is not the most excitingly written of books, but the story is a truly a fascinating one, even for more of a self-professed Hardy Boys fan such as myself,but it is clearly and intelligently written.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Hill Hirsh on December 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Although Rehak can be applauded for collecting so much information on Drew in one book,I have to object to the contention stated by some professional reviewers that Rehak basically, as publisher Harcourt says, "cracks the mystery" regarding authorship of the Drew series.The story of the various authors has, in fact, been known for quite some time.It has been known for many years, for example, that Margaret Wirt (Benson) took Edward Stratemeyer's bare bones outline and created the fully realized character of Nancy Drew, and wrote the series from 1930 to 1953 (I think I have my dates correct.) The part played by Stratemeyer and Harriet Adams is also pretty well known.

Rehak has done a great service to Drew fans who may not know the history of the series.But as a Drew fan myself, I originally learned the history and culural contexts of Drew in "Rediscovering Nancy Drew," edited by Dyer and Romalov and published by the University of Iowa Press in 1995. That book contains essays and articles on everything to do with Nancy Drew,from the Stratemeyer publishing empire and how it worked, to authorship issues re Drew, to sources for research, archival and otherwise--it basically covers the issues, history, cultural contexts and more regarding the Drew series.

Again, my main objection regarding Rehak's book is that she is credited with "revealing" some things that are already known and have been published elsewhere. This is especially true regarding the publisher's claim that Rehak "solves the mystery" of who created Nancy Drew. An issue such as this may not be that important to the general reader who's just interested in a fun read about the Nancy Drew saga. But if this book is also to be taken as history, with claims to scholarship, it shouldn't be "sold" using false p.r. fluff.
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