Oh to be young again. I was one of those girls who soaked up books every chance I got, even riding my bicycle to the local library a good few miles away on busy suburban roads. There weren’t many books my Depression-Era-raised parents actually bought for me, but sometime between my eighth and twelfth birthdays, I managed to scam every Nancy Drew book available at the time. A variety of authors penned the novels over the years, although they were all released under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene”.
In the days before it seems the celebrity culture pervaded, seemingly telling girls to want to be like Britney or Paris, Nancy Drew was an idol for millions of girls. Here was an eighteen-year-old, out of high school with no talk of college – yup, that’s something to look forward to. Her widowed lawyer father, Carson Drew, gave his daughter a convertible and didn’t expect her to get a job. He didn’t expect her to go to college. Instead, this man, who easily could have been over-protective and sheltering of his only daughter, largely raised without a mother, indulges and encourages his daughter as she embarks on finding out the truth behind The Secret of the Old Clock among many, many others. He does express some reticence at one point, but that has more the feeling of giving his daughter a reality check.
Boy did I think Nancy had it made. I mean, really, a Mom or a convertible? The formula for success was in the books by creating Nancy to be sympathetic and yet independent. Dear Old Dad was there, but largely as a figurehead. He didn’t expect Nancy to have a job, so he obviously acted as an ATM, although his financial support for his daughter is never discussed outright (at times Nancy talks about things “fitting into her budget.”) Other than that, Nancy pretty much had all the freedom she could ever want, even if she was a bit of a goody-goody. And that is exactly what girls in the eight to twelve age group want to think turning eighteen is about.
The Secret of the Old Clock was first written in 1930 and then underwent a major update in 1959. This cut the number of chapters from the original 25 to 20 and eliminated some of the more outdated language from the text. Even now, more than sixty years after those revisions, the book was a hit with the three girls in my house, although many references are dated.
In The Secret of the Old Clock, Nancy comes across two elderly sisters raising their great-niece. They are doing the best they can on a limited income and speak of a relative who promised to provide for them in his will, but seemingly changed his mind for no reason and left his wealth to the family he resided with in the end. This family, the Tophams, aren’t quite as nice and generous as the two sisters. Nancy is quite familiar with the family, and their story sparks her interest in learning if there was a second will that the Tophams were cut out of. Along the way, she gets help from a variety of sources, most notably her father and a friend, Helen Corning.
Some things that happen seem horrific by our modern standards. I mean, a little girl nearly gets hit by a van and falls off a bridge. She’s unconscious, but Nancy merely brings her to her house and waits for her to wake up. Nowadays, parents would be calling an ambulance (and probably Nancy’s father) and the girl would be subjected to a CAT scan and a series of tests once she arrived at the hospital. The thought of taking the girl to the hospital doesn’t seem to enter the minds of either Nancy or the two great-Aunts who are raising her. Later on, Nancy comes across an elderly lady who fell down the stairs. Without benefit of xrays or any medical degree, Nancy herself diagnoses that the woman hasn’t broken any bones.
Some of the terminologies might go over the head of young girls reading it now. Nancy dresses in a “suit” to go out and this might be confusing to girls who only know of the business suits they see their fathers in (well, sometimes). Hanging wet clothes near a “range” rather than just throwing them in the dryer might also prove difficult to understand. And when was the last time anyone regularly wore bobby pins in their hair?
Nancy always seems to have the best qualities. When the name of the Topham family is first brought up, She had been taught never to gossip. That doesn’t stop her from doing so. Hey, you never know what good information you can get from gossip. Indeed, later on, her father and the family housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, seem to be all too eager to indulge in it when it comes to the Tophams. Her father also apparently eavesdropped on another lawyer’s conversations, although he denies that was his intention. Gossip and eavesdropping are a big part of Nancy solving this mystery.
The descriptions are pretty good. The author doesn’t go into long-winded descriptions of characters and places but has them short and succinct to allow girls to immerse themselves in Nancy’s world but not have them drift off and lose interest. There are pen and ink illustrations at various points in the novel. These, too, look a bit dated in the hairstyles and clothing the people are wearing. They are simple and not intricate, just enough to give a flavor of the events taking place. That’s fine because the best illustrations are in the mind anyway.
Modern girls might not take to The Secret of the Old Clock the way I did, but I think they’ll enjoy reading it at least once. Nancy is smart and savvy and the image of what many girls that age have of what it’s like to be a grown-up. At 180 pages, it’s not a long read at all. You might even relive your childhood by reading it with your daughter.
Next book in the series (link): The Hidden Staircase