Karen Paul Holmes

Re-Reading Nancy Drew Out Loud

Using hyperbolic horror, dramatic voices—yet forgetting which character has which voice—my husband Mark and I snark about holes in the plot, “Wait, how could Nancy know that?” We laugh at their vintage food: plain gelatin for the old aunt sick in bed, creamed chicken on toast for ladies’ lunch at the snazzy Lilac Inn. But gobble one book, start the next.

I’m impressed I read these in fourth grade. The syntax and similes more sophisticated than you’d expect, the stories more complex, scarier than I recall. (I mean in Book 2, The Hidden Staircase, Nancy’s lawyer father, drugged, gets kept in a dungeon until she rescues him—with no help from the police, I might add.) No wonder Nancy used to get all my babysitting money. I’d practically hug each new book to my chest. But I now blame the teen-sleuth for my belief I had to be perfect. She of the brightest brains, smartest clothes, slim body, red-blond hair, shining at every physical feat attempted (even the A-B-Sea certification for skin diving). Apple of her dad’s eye. Flawless boyfriend. I bought blue contact lenses at 16 and craved a blue convertible.

Last week, too sick with COVID to read War and Peace, nothing on TV, I had whined to Mark, “Wish I had a light novel with a female lead.” On a run to the grocery store next to a Barnes & Noble, he returned with Grosset & Dunlap’s Nancy Drew Starter Set, Books 1-5: new neon yellow, plasticized covers. Otherwise, inside and out, like 1959. Even the same black & white drawings (the frontispiece, my hubby says eruditely) that should warn spoiler alert. Holding them, opening them, I got the some-things-don’t-change warm fuzzies.

Mark and I, both brimming with virus now, sit on our patio reading to each other. Just finishing Book 3 The Bungalow Mystery (Nancy, driving fast as the law allows, chasing fraudster Stumpy Dowd’s black foreign sedan), when our neighbor peeks around the corner. We laugh, explaining ourselves. She (46, divorced) says, That’s the most romantic thing ever! She thinks we’re an adorable couple anyway—getting married a little over a year ago in our late 60s.

Yep, with my hair graying, I finally found my Ned Nickerson (introduced in Book 7, The Clue in the Diary), who thinks I’m better than Nancy. I’m finally okay with these extra pounds and never owning a snappy blue convertible: He’s got sky-colored eyes and a blue Subaru.

Karen Paul Holmes has two poetry books, No Such Thing as Distance (Terrapin) and Untying the Knot (Kelsay). Her poems have appeared on The Writer’s Almanac, The Slowdown, and Verse Daily. Publications include Diode, Plume, and Valparaiso Review. As a freelance writer, she has also published articles in blogs and business magazines.