by Chelsea Cain, reading at the Wordstock Book Fair, Oregon Convention Center, Powell's Stage, Sun April 24, 3 pm
Whether or not you grew up reading the Nancy Drew books, you'd likely recognize the slim, attractive, titian-haired, Roadster-driving teen in a lineup. And part of the wondrous fun of local writer Chelsea Cain's new parody, Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, is that it manages to simultaneously poke fun at and celebrate the character of Nancy Drew, the teen detective genre as a whole, and its large fan base.
In this tell-all, the girl detective's black and white life is rendered slightly shady: This is not your mother's Nancy Drew. Cain has envisioned that Nancy Drew author Carolyn Keene was actually Drew's dumpy, jealous roommate who made the teen sleuth's adventures her own and got the facts wrong. The book follows Drew through wonderfully ridiculous plot lines, documents her response to important political landmarks of the '30s through the '70s, and exposes her ambivalence about motherhood, and marriage. (Turns out Nancy married her dark, handsome, and boring boyfriend Ned Nickerson, but little Ned Junior bears an unmistakable resemblance to Frank Hardy...)
Cain's parody also reveals that Nancy's mother didn't actually die by rabid collie bite, but was instead a suffragette who ran off when her husband refused to let her march for Woodrow Wilson, and who, years later, fell in love with "an Oriental," and spent time in an internment camp.
Confessions of a Teen Sleuth is an extremely clever book, with the funniest touches being the many clues that Nancy Drew fails to catch. For instance, she's blind to the orientation of her "tomboyish chum" George. George works as a riveter at the River Heights docks, and lives "on the wrong side of the tracks…[in] an area of town where many young women with short hair and boys' names lived." Nancy finds "V", the brawny roommate with whom George shares a bedroom "a bit queer," and finds her paintings of the close-up insides of flowers slightly disturbing but doesn't know why. It's just one more wonderful detail in an immensely enjoyable re-visioning of the much-loved Nancy Drew, and the best kind of guilty pleasure--one both tongue-in-cheek and edgy.