Book Title: Nancy Drew and the Sky Phantom; Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the 99 Steps
Author: Carolyn Keene
Genre/Audience; Mystery, children’s, youth
Worth the read?: Given some grace, yes.
When I was little, I hated to read. And yet, on the rare occasion I found a book that struck my fancy, there was absolute no stopping me until I finished it. I remember once, in upper elementary school, I came home from school, climbed onto my parents’ stationary bike, and started to read Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Hours later, when dinner was ready, my mom had to practically drag me off the bike so that I would eat. There weren’t many books that drew me in so fully aside from Mr. Popper and those adorable penguins—that is, except for Nancy Drew, girl wonder and detective extraordinaire.
I’m not sure when I discovered Nancy, but I think it was sometime around second grade. My school’s library had a few different editions of the novels, some written and printed in the early 2000s (that is, when I was in 3rd grade), and others that were circa 1980-or-so. I remember loving both versions that the library had, but since then, I strictly read the yellow-backed series in the style of older Nancy Drew novels.
I’ve tried to read a few different Nancy Drew series over the years, but have really disliked the writing. (This, of course, is when I discovered that Carolyn Keene was not a real person, but a pseudonym, and that some ghostwriters do a better job remaining true-to-style than others.)
While I was home last week being treated for vertigo, I read two Nancy novels from the pile of 16 that I’ve accumulated over the years. (I want the entire 56-book set of this edition!) The first, Nancy Drew and the Sky Phantom, was creative and empowering, for in this novel, Nancy is a pilot in training!
I’ll be honest, I’m still a bit confused about what the sky phantom was. It’s explained in the resolution of the book, but I found the explanation to be wordy and intentionally confusing. As a 21-year-old reading a 4th-grader’s novel, I find that disconcerting.
Aside from that, I had a great time reading The Sky Phantom. The plot was predictable, of course, but that’s what I was after! It’s like reading a Nicholas Sparks novel—if you’re not looking for someone to die tragically, then what are you doing here in the first place?!
A huge plus to this particular novel is that, though the plot is easy to guess, the final outcome is a bit more original than is typical in other Nancy Drew books.
I recently read an article by a professor at my university discussing the fat-shaming that takes place regarding Bess Marvin. I’ve certainly always remembered that George Fayne was athletic and tomboyish, while Bess was overweight and emotional…but this time, I paid extra attention with this thought in mind: whether the descriptions are true or not, are they words that I would read to a child?
I believe that these particular Nancy Drew stories are much less fat-shaming to Bess than the ones described in the article, though both of these books do spend some time describing the girls, and Bess does seem to have a lot of negative descriptors added onto her shapeliness: it’s not enough that Bess is bigger than her friends, she is also described as erratic, overly emotional, and food-obsessed. Meanwhile, skinny George and Nancy are both calm, cool, and collected. Coincidence? I’d wager not.
The answer to my question, then, is no—I would not read some of the descriptive statements to a child.
That said, I read these books like crazy as a kid, and Bess’ description never concerned me. I related to Bess, in that I was heavier than all of my friends and was certainly not athletic. Bess is an important character, and I do wish she were treated better by the author. But she exists. Third-grade Nikki was really grateful for that.
This book was fun because it included Mr. Drew, a bit of Hannah Gruen, and Bess and George. Almost the whole gang got to take part in The Mystery of the 99 Steps.
There was a good amount of hands-on sleuthing in this one, including trespassing! And France! And, of course, many near-death misses. Actually, I think this one had more near-misses than any other Nancy Drew book I’ve ever read…too many, I’d say.
But I was home sick, and I seriously wanted a throwback to simpler days, so I certainly wasn’t complaining. I still hold dearly my Nancy Drew collection, am still obsessed with the computer games, and still hope to share this love with my own daughter someday after having a good, healthy conversation about body image.
Did you read Nancy Drew novels as a kid? Leave me a comment and let’s chat!