Tues. Aug. 20, 2019: The Secret In the Old Attic


Secret Old Attic

Reader Expansion Challenge August — THE SECRET IN THE OLD ATTIC.

It was difficult to pick a favorite book from childhood, because there were so many. I read all the time.

But I finally decided to re-read my very first Nancy Drew book, THE SECRET IN THE OLD ATTIC. This is the 1970 version, with the yellow spine. I bought it, along with THE MYSTERY OF THE 99 STEPS, with my allowance at a store called Mead’s Department Store on Greenwich Avenue. The books were $1.99 each.

It totally plays into the fantasy that I (and many of my friends) still have about wonderful finds in attic trunks and secret rooms. I’d completely forgotten that the main plot revolved around stolen music, and the subplot about black widow spiders and special formulas for fabric.

Nancy, as usual, can do anything. Bess and George were barely in the book, and Ned arrived at the end to break down a door. There was some caricature instead of character stuff with the way Effie the maid is drawn, and the villains.

I kept trying to remind myself that this is a middle-grade book; the characters won’t be as complex as other books. Plus, it’s a Strathmeyer Syndicate book — the Nancy Drew mysteries were comfort books for little white girls. Because Nancy didn’t let anything like sexism get in her way (and, in fact, depending on which ghost writer handled a particular volume, played against it), she made us believe we could do the same. Not just survive, but thrive and beat the bad guys.

I don’t remember a lot of diverse characters in the series as a whole. As I go back and re-read, I’m sure the racism and ethnic slurs will be more evident than they were when I was 8 and 10.

When people bring up those elements of the juvenile mystery fiction of the 20th century — Bobbsey Twins, Dana Girls, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Judy Bolton, Vicky Barr, Beverly Gray, Trixie Belden, etc. — I point out that these books were a snapshot of their times. Of the attitudes. The attitudes weren’t right then any more than they are now. Up until 2016, it was a reminder of the progress we’ve made, and a reminder of how much we still have to work. Sadly, we’re now moving backwards.

There are logistical lapses and a few times where I thought, “That didn’t make sense.” While I didn’t have the unbridled joy I felt the first time I read it, I still enjoyed it. And it was a definite encouragement for me to play with some of the tropes (attics, trunks, hidden rooms) in my own work. It was fun (I read it in about 90 minutes) while still being flawed.

And it’s sending me back to re-read (for the umpteenth time), one of my favorite books, Melanie Rehak’s GIRL SLEUTH: NANCY DREW AND THE WOMEN WHO CREATED HER. Several years ago, I wrote about that book, right here on Biblio Paradise.

September’s challenge is to read an anthology of short stories. We will reconvene here to share on September 17.

What was your favorite childhood re-read for this challenge? Leave your musings in the comments!