In 1930, a high school girl turned sleuth named Nancy Drew returned a family fortune to its rightful heirs, dispelled a mansion haunting and rescued a wealthy young girl from being swindled. Ever since her three-book (The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery) debut on this day 84 years ago, Nancy Drew has been enthralling young mystery enthusiasts — and inspiring a few as well. On the anniversary of Nancy Drew’s birth, we’re paying tribute to her legacy by highlighting five more girls who are solving mysteries today. Like Nancy, they're all smart, resourceful, and able to figure out whodunit, but who knows if that would’ve been the case without Nancy to lead the way.
1. Mary Quinn from The Agency Series by Y. S. Lee
Orphaned in Victorian London, 12-year-old Mary has been caught stealing and condemned to hang. Just before she's led to the gallows, Mary is rescued by a woman posing as a prison warden and brought to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, where she learns the finer arts of espionage and detective work. Five years later, Mary embarks on her first case: infiltrating a rich merchant's house by posing as the companion of his spoiled teen daughter. But Mary is hiding secrets of her own, which threaten to come to light as she is drawn deeper into the investigation.
2. Sally Lockhart from The Sally Lockhart Quartet by Philip Pullman
"On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby, Shipping Agents, in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver. … Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man."
— The Ruby in the Smoke
At 16, Sally is a girl grounded in military tactics, bookkeeping, the stock market and the workings of a pistol. Orphaned after her father drowns at sea under mysterious circumstances, she comes across the mysterious phrase "Beware the seven blessings," which causes her father's secretary to literally drop dead. But what is its connection to her father's death? Teaming up with an amateur photographer and an errand boy, Sally tries to unravel the secret.
3. Zora from Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon
Zora's always told tall tales, and her latest is about a shapeshifting gator-man who lives by the marshes. When a man is found dead and headless by the railroad tracks, 10-year-old Zora and her best friends Carrie and Teddy are convinced that the gator-man is the culprit, but how can they convince the rest of Eatonville that the reclusive old man in the marshes really did become a gator (and a murderer)? And what does that have to do with a woman named Gold? A fictionalized account of what Zora Neale Hurston might have been like as a child growing up in Eatonville, Florida at the turn of the century, Zora and Me explores race from a child's point-of-view while still diving headfirst into a murder mystery.
4. Natalie Fuentes from Strange Times at Western High by Emily Pohl-Weary
First days at new schools are never easy, but for 16-year-old Natalie, who’s just arrived to Toronto following her parents' divorce, this one is especially rough. She not only gets on the bad side of Western High's popular girls, but stumbles onto a brutal attack on the school's janitor. The next day, she comes to school to find cruel graffiti telling her to back off before being chased and threatened by the popular girls. But nothing deters Natalie — who has been reading Nancy Drew since she was 10! — from trying to uncover who attacked the janitor and why.
5. Roswell Hart from Blind Spot by Laura Ellen
Sixteen-year-old Roz lives with an eye disease that robs her of her central vision and qualifies her as legally blind, making her an unlikely candidate for a detective. But aside from needing to sit at the front of the class, this doesn't keep her from living her life. During sophomore year, she is assigned to Life Skills, a newly-required class for all students with “disabilities,” and laments:
"Disability.' How I loved to hate that word. I used to think I had 'ability,' that I was normal. That's because I thought everyone saw like me—disjointed and fragmented, every object in visual range like pieces of a puzzle in need of constant reconstruction. When it's the only way you know, your way is normal. Until told otherwise."
As a disabled student, Roz fights for her right to take an advanced placement class while navigating her high school social life. When Tricia, her Life Skills partner, goes missing, Roz assumes that the troubled girl has run away — but six months later, when the ice on the river thaws, Tricia's body floats to the top. Roz, realizing that she was the last person to see Tricia alive, starts trying to figure out who might have killed her and why she can't clearly remember that night.
This list of young girls inspired by Nancy Drew is obviously just a starting point. Which girl detectives keep you on the edge of your seat? What would you recommend to your fellow Nancy Drew readers? Let us know in the comments below!
Victoria Law is a writer, photographer and mother. She co-edits the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press 2009). She frequently writes about conditions and organizing within the U.S. prison system. To escape these realities, she enjoys reading dystopic fiction and printing black-and-white photos of streetscapes.
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