Page One Love: My Life with Nancy Drew
Alex Brunkhorst is a a real estate agent specializing in multi-million dollar estates for Los Angeles’s wealthiest residents. Her new novel, The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine, was inspired by Alex’s glimpse into the world of extreme wealth and privilege. To celebrate its publication, Alex visits Shelf Pleasure and shares how she fell in love with Nancy Drew, beginning on page one of book one–and the heartbreak she felt when she realized there were no more books in the series.
They were placed, side-by-side, in numerical order against the concrete blocks. It was winter in Milwaukee, when Saturdays were spent in our basement roller-skating while snow accrued on the high windows and wind swirled in their wells. There were 10 books. Their covers were ominous blue with a darker blue lettering and they smelled musty – like our basement maybe, but also, I would soon realize, like the secrets their heroine would be uncovering.
When I questioned my mom about the random books with read-if-you-dare titles like The Haunted Bridge and The Whispering Statue she said that they were hers growing up. They were Nancy Drew books, she said, as if that girl were someone I should know. I opened the first one, blowing the dust off its pages and wiping a cobweb from its cover.
I had always looked up to my mom – a tall, model-ish figure who wore frayed Daisy Dukes and bore a striking resemblance to Linda Evans in the Dynasty days – and I think the initial allure of Nancy Drew books was that they were something my mom had read as a kid, so it was my first chance to follow in her footsteps. I sat down with the decades-old book in my bedroom, where my brother and sister couldn’t get to me.
My relationship with Nancy Drew was love at first sight – page one love.
I read my mom’s books in a couple of sittings, transported to a place far away from wintery Wisconsin. I quickly preferred Nancy Drew to human interaction. Who needed the kids at St. Mary’s Elm Grove grade school when there were Nancy and her friends? Nancy, Bess Marvin, George Fayne, Carson Drew, Mrs. Hannah Gruen, and Ned Nickerson were my posse, long before the word posse was used in everyday lingo.
I needed more books, and Saturdays became Waldenbooks days. We would go to Brookfield Square mall, and I was allowed to buy two Nancy Drew books – enough to presumably last the week, but they never did. I was 10 years old, sophisticated I thought, and I knew that the series needed to be tackled in serial order, not by plucking the most intriguing titles first. I plowed through them, ignoring invitations to kickball and tennis games. I did not want to leave Nancy.
Nancy Drew books were the first time I encountered the phenomenon of scarcity. I knew there were a limited number of books (50 or 60 at the time) and I was eventually going to catch up to the author Carolyn Keene, at which point I would have to wait for a year for the next book to come out. Write faster, Carolyn Keene, I remember thinking to myself, as I purposely tried to read more slowly. Books were put under the bed midway through, only to be lustily devoured in one sitting when curiosity got the best of me.
I don’t remember how long it took – six months maybe – but eventually I did overtake Carolyn Keene, and I ran out of Nancy Drew books. It was a sad day, that day I had to retreat to my bedroom and listen to Duran Duran instead of following Nancy into perilous situations in exotic milieus.
Nancy Drew has stuck with me all these years, and the lessons I learned from her permeate my life. Nancy was independent, cool, pulled together, loyal, smart, and resourceful. She didn’t depend on a guy for anything – she was a feminist before I knew the word or what it meant. As such, she was a role model – the woman I like to think I grew up to be. Nancy also taught me the beauty of a story – how sometimes we need something made-up, a good caper to take us away from real life for a bit. She paved the way for my love of reading for years to come, and I’m convinced that all that reading made me smarter and inspired me to doggedly pursue my dream of being a novelist. And, most importantly, I remember the sweet, impassioned conversations between my mom and me about the mysteries. We were two generations bound by a love for a book, something that doesn’t happen as often anymore.
Just recently, my mom was cleaning out the basement and she asked what I wanted to do with the perfectly ordered Nancy Drew books – her 10 blue ones and my 50 with yellow spines. I told her if I have a daughter someday I want them to go to her. I hope someday she’ll get as wrapped up in the stories as my mom and I did, and that Nancy will inspire her too. Because every girl could use a little mystery in her life.
Learn more about Alex and The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine here.
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