The Bungalow Mystery (Nancy Drew #3) by Carolyn Keene

I will probably never get over my girl-crush on Nancy Drew, and this book just confirms that fact. Which is not to say that the series is flawless and beyond criticism – kinda the opposite, really. One thing I’ve learned from re-reading some of these books as an adult is that whenever you start one, you have basically a fifty-fifty chance of ending up with 200 pages of dated, stupid crap. But this time, I was lucky. This book rocked. That being said, it doesn’t escape from the flaws that personify the entire series (at least it’s good to see that Carolyn Keene had already established these issues early in the series, and dammit if she didn’t stick to them).

Several things are to be expected from the Nancy Drew books, and I’ve taken the time to document them here:

1. We will be reminded, rather insistently, that Nancy is perfect. Over and over. She is skinny and pretty and brilliant and everyone loves her and the sooner we all just accept this the sooner we can get back to the mystery solving stuff.
2. Although Nancy lives in a time when teenage girls had about as many personal freedoms as trained dogs and were treated with a similar level of respect, she herself exists in a sort of bubble that makes her exempt from such social limitations. She has her own car, her own money (but, oddly, no apparent source of income), and doesn’t seem to have any demands on her time such as a job or school. In this book, Nancy decides on a whim to drive upstate for some investigating, and then when it runs long, checks herself into a hotel for the night. This is awesome, but I question the reality of it.
3. Carolyn Keene loves the words “sleuth” and “girl detective” and will use them as many times as she possibly can.
4. The bad guys are easily recognizable, because they are the only characters in the book who are ever rude to anyone.

These are the series’ main flaws. In the good Nancy Drews, such as this one, these flaws can be overlooked as soon as Nancy starts being a badass. And there’s a lot of that here. She survives a boat crash in a storm, breaks into not one but three houses, and manages to escape after the bad guys tie her up and leave her in a basement. She also taught me a valuable life lesson: if the hotel you’re having dinner in leaves souvenir matchbooks on the table, take them, because you are guaranteed to need them in the next few hours.

As an added bonus, Nancy’s boyfriend Ned Nickerson (affectionately known as “Candy-Ass” in my head) is not present, and in fact may not have been introduced as a character yet. Also conspicuously absent are Nancy’s friends, Fat Bess and Butch George, so we don’t have to listen to Carolyn Keene delivering backhanded compliments in her narration that would embarrass Regina George.

It isn’t a great series, to be sure, and by all logic should not get such high ratings. But the fact remains that Nancy Drew is a literary heroine far ahead of her time, and even with all her books’ issues, she’s still a much better role model than certain contemporary literary ladies I could name.

Verdict: four out of five stars

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