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Published: Friday, 6/15/2007

Teen detective was a heroine a young girl could believe in

<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> VIEW: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070615/ART09/706150302/-1/ART" target="_blank "><b>Movie review: Nancy Drew ***</b></a>
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> VIEW: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070615/ART16/706150309" target="_blank "><b>Toledo's Millie Benson created the sleuth</b></a> <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> VIEW: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070615/ART09/706150302/-1/ART" target="_blank "><b>Movie review: Nancy Drew ***</b></a> <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> VIEW: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070615/ART16/706150309" target="_blank "><b>Toledo's Millie Benson created the sleuth</b></a>

Growing up with a sister close in age meant that make-believe was a not only a pastime but a necessity.

Our favorite? Charlie's Angels, of course - a scenario where we could play private eye wearing made-up badges and with toothpicks as a method to pick locks. And when my boy cousins were around, we'd muster up southern accents and run from the law as the Dukes of Hazzard.

But one heroine that I never shared, one that I never acted out although I lived her life almost daily, was Nancy Drew.

That's because Nancy Drew was all mine.

OK, and I may have been hard pressed to get my sister to take on the role of one of Nancy's sidekicks - George Fayne, who was Nancy's tom-boyish friend, or Bess Marvin, who was always described as plump.

But even if my sister would have agreed just once to pick up a book in the series - which had been growing exponentially on my bookshelf - I don't think I would have wanted to recreate Nancy Drew's life. I was much more content immersing myself in words and escaping into a world of mystery and sometimes danger as Nancy and her friends solved the latest case.

I know I was not alone. Many young girls way before me - I was first introduced to the sleuth through my mom's old collection - and after me have found a heroine in Nancy Drew.

She was a girl's answer to the popular Hardy Boys series and as I got older, updated versions of Nancy Drew books allowed her to come along with me.

Erica Blake Erica Blake

I loved her because I loved adventure and I loved to read. I loved that my mom could give me her old books and tell me about her favorite parts. And I loved that every year on my birthday and Christmas, I could count on at least two or three more.

And with the release of the new Nancy Drew movie, I love that I can get a small glimpse of such an important part of my childhood. (After seeing just one commercial, I immediately made a mental scan of my girlfriends to determine who may have been a Nancy Drew fan and who would just have to go see the movie with me.)

I recognize that she's not nearly as popular today. But, maybe she should be.

"I do think it's very interesting that this heroine is coming back at a very opportune time," said Montana Miller, an assistant professor at Bowling Green State University's Department of Popular Culture. "I think that just when Paris [Hilton] goes off to jail and Lindsay [Lohan] goes to rehab, she's probably just what we need."

Ms. Montana, who specializes in youth culture, said that a conservative, well-behaved, "almost geeky" sort of heroine is just what girls today need. But can the organized sleuth who "who figures stuff out with her brain and not by shaking her booty" compete in today's world?

"I think the hope is that Nancy Drew will come on the scene as a refreshing contrast to what is popular right now," she said, adding, "I'm not very optimistic."

That's a disappointment to avid readers like me who still peruse the children's section of bookstores every so often to see how many Nancy Drew books there are out today.

I recognize that we all grow up, and soon enough make-believe with sisters is replaced by movies with friends and the Nancy Drew series is replaced by books authored by Agatha Christie and John Grisham. But no true fan wants to see her die.

Nancy Eames, manager of the children's library at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's Main branch, said that Nancy is not nearly as popular as she used to be and what Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were to one generation, Harry Potter is to the next. But still, the familiar yellow bindings of the books that line the library shelves are often checked out.

"The single best part of Nancy Drew is the mother-daughter connection," Ms. Eames said. "I read my mother's copies and I see the same thing today. The sentimental value is a big piece."

And Nancy is still a character that everyone can love. She's geeky but she fits in. She's updated so girls today can to her relate but she has no tattoos. She's cool in her own sort of way.

I have a ton of these books and recently asked my mother to go on a search of her basement to find them. Because one day, if I have a daughter, I hope to pass down to her something that meant so much to me.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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