Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene

Title: The Secret of the Old Clock
Author: Carolyn Keene
Series: Nancy Drew #1
Pages: 210
Publisher: Applewood Books
Date Published: 1930
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library

With the death of Josiah Crawley, the town of River Heights is turned on its ear. The vile Tophams stand to inherit his entire fortune, but there are rumors of a second will that was secreted away before Josiah's death. Nancy, unaided, seeks to find the missing will, and the search not only tests her keen mind but also leads her into a thrilling adventure.

My Review:
Ahh yes, day one after having a long, incredibly jam packed month of steampunky goodness. Though I am sad that Let's Get Steamy 2.0 is over, it's been a good month and I'm happy to shake off the gears and grit of that genre and touch base on the ones that I've come to miss over the last few weeks. To start things off, I thought I would bring you guys a classic! The first Nancy Drew mystery! Nancy Drew (and her counterparts, The Hardy Boys) have been delighting children for generations and I thought that I should give her a try...mostly because I was tired of hearing the shocked exclamations from friends and relations of (WHAT?!? You've never read Nancy Drew?? But...but...that's like, a sin!). So I checked the old girl out the next time I happened to remember at the library. Unfortunately for Nancy Drew fans, I was not largely impressed.

Admittedly, I am looking at the story through a set of modern, feminist, racially unprejudiced eyes. I have no doubt that in the 1930's when The Secret of the Old Clock first came out, there was nothing amiss with the characters (though racial profiling runs rampant) and that Nancy was the perfect image of the modern women ( though she is finished with school at 16 and shops no less than 15 times in a 200 page book). Still, it was hard for me to take the book seriously because of how different my thinking is from the characters of the 1930's.

One thing that I did really appreciate about the generation gap, was that I felt like I got a glimpse into another time. Nancy's "golden bob" brings to mind a striking image of a flapper woman, and I loved her using the words "chums" and "mates" because they are so much quainter and more fun than today's "besties". The language is much richer, more descriptive, and overall more intense than most children's/pre-teen books today. There really is no comparison between the language in Nancy Drew and say...Captain Underpants or one of the other popular series.

For her time, Nancy was a very adventurous and outstanding young lady. She drove a blue roadster (convertible!), ran her own house, did all the shopping, and still had time to solve mysteries for the oppressed and underrepresented. I wanted to appreciate how much Nancy did, but I kept getting thrown off by quotes like, "She had a remarkably keen mind for a girl." *grrr* Yes, it was a long time ago, but the feminist in me is choking back a WORLD of angst and irritation when things like that get said. I honestly had a hard time swallowing some of the sexist remarks and kept questioning..."Is this something that today's children should be reading?" I'm not sure I want my little girls reading a book that even hints that they are inferior to boys in any way.

The story itself was fun but a bit predictable. Nancy needs to find a will. The title says that an old clock has a secret. Hey Nancy...I'm guessing you should probably check the clock...there might be something important inside...So you pretty much know the ending of the story before you even begins, but it was interesting to see Nancy get from point A to B. I admit that I got caught up in Nancy and the evil Topham girl's cat fighting and really enjoyed those scenes (pre-TV reality show anyone?) And actually, the character development was pretty strong for a book that was so short. The one thing that bugged me about it was that a lot of the story rested on chance. Someone would just so happen to mention the exact bit of information that Nancy needed in a passing conversation or someone would drop something right at her feet that turned out to be a big clue. Still, Nancy's got a lot to deal with, including fighting with the rich girls from school (*sigh* even 80 years ago there was mean girls...I guess they will still be there in 80 years as well). She also makes some interesting friends from out on the riverbanks, goes to summer camp, is kidnapped, escapes, and does all of this while keeping her household running at top efficiency including planning out menus, shopping lists, and "housewifely affairs"...whatever that means. Hooray for Nancy!

 Actually, while Nancy's roles were a bit blatantly...sexist, I think that at her time, she was a good role model for women. She was smart AND did things outside the realm of the house and home. During the 1930's (Think pre-WWII) this wasn't that common so Nancy is probably part of the very beginning of the feminist movement so while Today she seems kind of blah, back then I'm sure she was very radical and daring. While it was the sexism that bothered me most, Nancy also contains a despicable amount of racism (Jeff Tucker, the "Negro" caretaker was appallingly stereotyped in an extremely negative way) and classism (Nancy constantly referred to those of "quality" and of people "on the wrong side of the city"). These aspects were as ugly as the quality of the language was beautiful and, in my opinion, they killed the book.

I'm going to give Nancy Drew a 2 Key rating. (Please don't hate me Drew fanatics!). The language was beautiful and I wish that today's authors gave kids more credit and wrote a bit more intelligently when writing books for older children and pre-teens. The way Nancy (and the Hardy Boys) is written probably made the kids of the past actually think and use their minds, which is great, and I think some authors can learn from that. While I can definitely appreciate what Nancy first did to liberate women in the past, I feel that there really is no place for Nancy and her detecting in today's children's hands. As a society, America is way past the obvious racism, sexism, classism, (and every other ism out there), that is shown off in this book. By giving our kids these books, I feel like it could create unintentional prejudices in our kid's minds that they don't even realize are there until it comes out when they are older. I don't know guys. Do you think I'm over thinking things and destroying an American Classic? Or do you agree with me and think that Nancy should hang up her detective shoes and become a piece of history? Let me know!


  1. As a huge Nancy Drew, I can see where there are problems with reading this book with a modern view of the world. I will have to say that I loved Nancy Drew growing up, but the ones I enjoyed the most were the modern 1980-90 additions. The Nancy Drew Casefiles, and even better The Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy Super Mysteries. These do not have the subservient view that tends to pop up in the original versions.

    1. Fan* That was suppose to say as a huge Nancy Drew fan.

    2. Andra I'm a Nancy Drew fan and you gotta recall that it's written for kids/teens so it is much predictable than Adult Fiction.

      Love your blog though, did you DIY the design?

  2. I have the same issue with classics that I'm *supposed* to love. Just can't always connect with the attitudes, etc., of the time period the books were written in. Hats off to you for giving this one a try, though!