How Nancy Drew Got Me Through

9 Jul

When I was a five years old my mother took me to Toys R Us specifically to buy a Nancy Drew book. (Why we didn’t just go to a book store, I don’t know. Maybe we’d been in the toy store another time and she’d seen that there was a section for Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Bobbsy Twin books. I don’t think Toys R Us sells them anymore but then again, maybe I’m wrong). Anyway… I didn’t know who Nancy Drew was but my mom talked so much about her (or the books) that my excitement was thoroughly peaked. After all, SHE had read Nancy Drew when she was a little girl.

When we arrived to the designated aisle, I was struck by the yellow spines, the thickness of the books and the numbers of volumes on display. She told me to pick out one. Having nothing to go by other than the pictures of the characters on the covers, I judged the books by their covers and picked out “The Phantom of Pine Hill.” It depicted Nancy in a pale blue pleated dress with Ned Nickerson at her side and a prowler off in the woods or on a cliff. I was smitten immediately. I was getting a big girl book.   

Later that afternoon my mom sat down with me on the couch and read me the first chapter while I looked over her shoulder. Reflecting back on this, these books were way beyond the kindergarden age, not only in reading skill but in content. Nancy was eighteen after all with a boyfriend in college who helped her solve crimes. I don’t really know what my mom was thinking. The only books in my memory prior to Nancy Drew were “Babar the Elephant”, a story about a little whale caught in a fishing net and “The Little Engine that Could.”

Whatever my mom was thinking, she hit a home run. I LOVED Nancy Drew and when we finished reading “Phantom of Pine Hill” (she had to read it to me because the words were too hard), I picked it up and began reading it on my own. To my knowledge, I learned to read by looking over her shoulder. From then on, she only read me a few more Nancy Drew books out loud because I was able to read them on my own. 

I was into Nancy Drew up until the fifth grade. This angered my teachers and librarians who felt I should expand my reading interests, even though I read anything assigned. Deep in my heart I knew this was silly. Who cared if I read an excess of Nancy Drew? It made me a book fanatic to this day and I did eventually graduate to a more diverse literary cannon. 

Nancy Drew books accompanied me on airplane trips in the summer to my grandparents’ houses in Wisconsin and fed my imagination. Because my father was an attorney just like Nancy’s and because I lived with him eventually, I identified with the titian haired protagonist. We were also upper middle class and I had opportunities to travel fairly extensively just like Nancy. But that was where the parallels ended. By my high school years, both my parents were consumed with addiction and life wasn’t as simple or luxurious as in a Nancy Drew book. 

Over the years, I’ve experienced nostalgia reading Nancy Drew books every now and then. I like that they involve a mystery without blood and guts and that they depict a slightly more civilized time in our society. Last year, when I received a suicide note from my mother and didn’t know whether she was dead or alive (or where she was), I was awash in fear. To calm myself down and feel close to her, I drove myself to Barnes and Nobles and bought myself “The Secret in the Old Attic,” one of the books that my mom read out loud to me. I worked during the day because I had to and then read the book each night, grateful that it soothed me. Three days later, I received a call from the police that she was found dead on the streets in La Mesa; the cause of death was unknown but when I told them about the suicide note, they suspected a drug overdose because pills were scattered around her body. The autopsy later confirmed the cause of death as suicide. 

All summer after her death, I continued to read Nancy Drew books. It was a strange link to her and the happiness that was early childhood. I know that if she saw me while up in Heaven during that time, it would have touched her that Nancy was who I turned to for comfort. As the year progressed, I moved on to the Bible, discovering it seriously for the first time in my life. (The librarians would be pleased, as the Bible is considered great literature). But as July 13th rolls around (the day I received her suicide note) and July 18th looms ahead (the day I received the call from the police), I feel the itch for a Nancy Drew book. I’ve been reading Francine Rivers voraciously during the last week – escaping into the days of Ancient Rome – but I think it is time to pick out one of those yellow bound books. And I’ll do so by the picture on the cover and from what I remember of it from when I was little. And while I read it, I will not only think of my mother, I will feel her, sitting there with me on the couch, giving me not only the gift of her time but one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child. The ability to read and a life long passion for it.

Thank you, Mom. I hope now that you’re in Heaven, you have time now to read and that He is teaching you His word.

3 Responses to “How Nancy Drew Got Me Through”

  1. Kevin Brangwynne July 9, 2009 at 7:42 pm #

    Lise…your beautiful writing continues to blow me away! You have a gift, which is no doubt enhanced by your appetite for reading. I will be praying for you hard over the next week or so, as you pass through these anniversaries surrounding your Mom’s passing…May God bless you and give you peace!

  2. lisesletters July 9, 2009 at 11:44 pm #


    Thank you so much for the kind words. I would love to be a professional author, so it is gratifying to receive positive feedback and to actually have people read one’s work. And prayers during this time are most welcome as grief is such a weird animal. (They say suicides and homicides are processed differently than other forms of death and I think this is true).

    Anyway, as for reading influencing writing, this makes me think of something I read in a book on writing by Stephen King (who I’m not a fan of because of his genre but I’m probably the only person in the Universe who feels this way). He said all writers must also read and that he spends his morning writing and his afternoons reading (as a form of work). I love that! What a wonderful kind of work!!!! I think about that with Pastors too – how their “work” involves reading the bible. Very cool.


  3. Chae Kyung Lee October 25, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

    This is amazing and wonderfully put together! It was my mom too who introduced me to Nancy Drew when I was in elementary, and at first when I glanced at the shelf of books in Barnes and Nobles, I felt that it was outdated and such. I’m glad I proved myself wrong, and from that day on, I have been a serious fanatic for Nancy Drew mysteries. It’s been about four years now, and in Freshman year. Nancy Drew stories is an escape for me, especially when I’m stressed out about everyday life and my parents’ unnecessary arguments over topics that really don’t need arguing. It must have been hard with your mom’s death, and I know how that feels, but I’m sure it must have been worse for you. This gave me an idea to write stories like this on my tumblr, and keep writing stories for I have stopped since 7th grade (been to busy, as we all are). One of my goals is to actually collect all Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, read them all, and pass them on to my children. I want to continue Nancy Drew’s literary legend, and may others find the kind of escape we did. God bless you!

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