So you want to be a girl sleuth. Good for you! There are worse ambitions. I wanted to be a girl sleuth too. I never made it, but I’m here to help you in a few easy steps.
First, are you a girl? Or a boy who identifies as a girl? (We acknowledge gender variability now, and about time too.) If you’re a boy who’s happy being a boy, then “girl sleuth” will be tough to carry off with conviction.
Next, do an age-check. Are you under 11? Then you’ve got fantastic reading skills, but you’re a bit too young to be a sleuth. Over 20? The clock is ticking! Dress young, get out there, and solve a mystery! Over 30? Now you’re just being silly.
Let’s assume you’re 12 to 18, a good age for the beginning, or “tyro,” girl sleuth. Now, what type do you want to be? Here are two models to choose from: Nancy Drew (original books by Carolyn Keene) and Trixie Belden (first six books by Julie Campbell).
Nancy’s mysterious powers
You’ve heard of Nancy Drew. Everyone has. Anthropologists report that even in remote parrot-bedecked jungles, when tribes people are asked to word-associate the phrase “Titian-haired,” they respond “Nancy Drew” with a “well, duh” look on their faces.
What’s that? I called her “blonde” up in the tagline? Well spotted, and that brings us to a key point: Nancy has mysterious powers. She starts out blonde, then turns into a redhead, and as Jill Huppert points out in The Mystery of the Disappearing Roadster, Nancy owns a blue roadster, a maroon roadster, a green and black roadster, a coupe, and then a convertible, all without aging past 18.
Nancy can also accomplish, with aplomb, any task she’s given. Row across a lake in a thunderstorm? No worries. Ride a bucking horse? Sure thing. Make a stained-glass window? How many do you want? “Why, Nancy, you’re awfully good at that,” is a phrase that recurs in the Nancy Drew series.
Trixie, the schoolgirl shamus
Meanwhile, 13-year-old Trixie Belden gets called “wacky,” “noodlehead,” and “schoolgirl shamus” by her brothers. In The Secret of the Mansion, she falls off a horse, then dives into a lake and bangs her head on a rock. Her friend Honey has to drag her out by her hair. (Unchangeably blonde: “short sandy curls.”) She can’t thread a needle, and unlike Nancy, whose wardrobe is as various as her cars, Trixie wears jeans and scuffed moccasins and “feels like a goon” in a skirt.
And there’d be no cars for Trixie even if she were old enough to drive. Mr. Belden works for a bank, but he seems to be shut out of all the hedge funds and “collateralized debt obligations” that have made so many bankers rich these days. Nancy lives in an elegant home with a housekeeper. Trixie lives in a farmhouse and has to feed the chickens. Also, her family eats a lot of hamburger.
Despite having to get around on a horse, Trixie solves almost as many mysteries as Nancy, and by the end of every book, her brothers have come round. “There never was anyone like Trixie,” says one of them, fondly if inaccurately.
That’s another difference: Trixie has a family. She lives at Crabapple Farm in upstate New York (snowy winters, muggy summers). She goes to school and makes heavy lifting of that too, almost missing The Mystery in Arizona because of poor grades. She frequently has to stop in mid-sleuth to take care of her little brother.
Nancy doesn’t go to school. If she did, she’d end up teaching the teachers. She has no mother or siblings, and her father is improbably indulgent (“Be careful following that sinister and possibly armed robber, Nancy”). River Heights could be almost anywhere. Nancy’s two friends, George and Bess, are very lightly sketched. George has cropped hair; Bess is plump and giggles. By contrast, Honey Wheeler and Jim Frayne, another of Trixie’s friends, are practically characters from Dostoevsky.
Trixie for me; and for you?
I can thread a needle, but then I don’t know what to do with it. I’m wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt. I’m definitely a Trixie. Nancy Drew led me to mysteries with a flawlessly manicured hand, and I’ll always be grateful, but I can’t live up to her.
And you? Would you rather be the cynosure of all eyes, effortlessly capable, Titian-haired or blonde at will, and amply supplied with clothes and cars? Or flawed and beleaguered, but deeply rooted in a place, a family, and even a secret club? Or would you like to be a bit of both?