Saturday, October 17, 2015

Nancy Drew Girl Detective - Series Recap

Now that I've finished the Nancy Drew Girl Detective series, I thought I'd talk for a bit about the series in general. It was the first _official_ reboot of the Nancy Drew series, not counting the unofficial reboots in the 60's and 80's. The idea was to update and modernize the Nancy Drew series for a new generation of young girls and 20-something YouTube reviewers.

Modernizing the series was a failure, in my opinion. Sure, it was nice to see George work with computers, but most of the writers clearly have no idea how computers work. If computers are a selling point for your series, you should at least TRY to make sure most of your computer information is accurate. Also, computers and cell phones are NOT new to the Nancy Drew universe; pretending they are is just silly.

The updates to series are more interesting. The biggest change is that the books are now in first person. The next biggest change: Nancy is a klutz. The series goes out of its way to portray her as a minor airhead; she constantly loses her phone and forgets to put gas in her car. The idea is that this makes Nancy a more relatable character, but a lot of readers felt that all it did was make Nancy look bad, for no real reason. People prefer having a competent heroine, a Nancy Drew who is a more positive role model. The series eventually realized its mistake and removed Klutzy Nancy entirely. Nobody was sad to see her go.

Bess and George were mostly unchanged; they're still a giggly girly-girl and a semi-grumpy tomboy. George was given an interest in computers which I already talked about, and Bess was turned into a mechanical genius. I liked the new Bess, but the books had a hard time balancing girly-girl Bess with Mechanic Bess. Most of the time, Mechanic Bess fades into the background, and it only gets brought up whenever Nancy feels the need to show her friend isn't a total stereotype.

The character who most needed changing was Nancy's boyfriend, Ned. In the previous series, he is a bland, boring character. He doesn't have much of a personality, and his only purpose in the books is to be Nancy's boyfriend. There was a LOT of room for improvement, when it came to Ned Nickerson. So what did the series do to update his character? Nothing! He's still a bland, generic nice guy who serves no purpose beyond being Nancy's boyfriend! His vague affinity for sports was changed to a vague affinity for journalism, and that's about it.

Considering how often he appears in these books, it's amazing how undeveloped of a character he is. I think the series would have been improved if they drastically changed Ned, or if they got rid of him completely. The Hardy Boys lost their girlfriends in _their_ series reboot, so why couldn't Nancy also become newly single?

Nancy's father and Hannah Gruen were also not changed, probably because they're absent for most of the series. Hannah had a subplot in Book 15; Mr. Drew had a subplot in Book 4. That was it for them. The rest of the time, they ocassionally hover around in the background of Nancy's house, but they never affect the story.

Nancy's dog Togo was written out of the series, but the dog appeared so rarely that getting rid of him was not a loss.

Now for the minor characters, which is another big change that the series introduced. There are 6 to 8 minor characters who regularly appear in the series, as opposed to the previous series, where none of the characters appeared in more than one book.

This was definitely a good idea, but the problem is that Deirdre Shannon completely dominates in this aspect. In almost every book, Deirdre Shannon is there. Deirdre Shannon is always there. The series goes out of its way to awkwardly shoehorn her into stories that don't need her. Most of the time she's interesting, and she's better than Nancy's previous rival, Brenda Carlton, but it was still overbearing to have the series be all Deirdre, all the time.

Besides Deirdre, Chief McGinnis is the minor character who appears the most. I have nothing to say about him, because his personality changes from book to book. He's rarely the same character twice, and Nancy switches from liking him, to hating him, to feeling sorry for him, to thinking he's a humorous joke.

Which is one of my main problems with the Girl Detective series, and Nancy Drew in general: continuity! The series has almost no continuity at all, and that makes me sad.

The other minor characters appear in about 3 to 4 books each, and they're mostly one-note characters. Harold Safer is comedy relief. Mrs. Mahoney is a nice old woman who serves as a victim. Luther Eldridge gives exposition on old, hidden treasures. Evaline Waters exists. Charlie Adams has an awkward crush on Nancy, and I think he would be a more interesting boyfriend than Ned. Then again, sometimes a block of cheese would be a more interesting boyfriend than Ned.

Originally, I was going to discuss every single book in the series at this point, but that would make this a huge blog post. So let me discuss the books by year.

The first part of 2004 was strong, as it introduced the new series and scenarios. The second half diverged into weird territory, with a two-part story written by two people who clearly didn't talk to each other, and books that were clearly written for a different Nancy Drew series.

2005 also had a strong first half, with a weak second half. The spa book, the civil war book, and the book narrated by Bess and George are memorable and popular. The second half of the year focused on Nancy Drew's 75th anniversary, and I did not like those books.

2006 was probably the best year, in my opinion. The series became more consistent from book to book, probably because the authors had the earlier books to use as a reference.

2007 was also a strong year, but after the second book, the publishing schedule got turned upside down. I get the sense they cancelled the series at this point, and the rest of the year was an attempt to rush all the half-finished books through production. The quality of the books started to fluctuate, between good and the worst book of the series.

2007 was also the year the Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys Supermystery series started. I mostly dislike this series, because half of the time, Nancy and the Hardys don't interact with each other. Also, they swear a lot, and the series sticks to the stereotype that the Hardys can do dangerous things but Nancy can't, because they're boys and she's a girl. Watch my reviews for those books, if you want to learn more.

2008 brought an end to the first half of the series. Starting with Book 29, the series got a new editor. I talked with the editor for a bit on Twitter; I was kind of hoping to interview them for this book review project, but I majorly messed things up, and they don't like me anymore. Editor, if you're reading this, I'm sorry for offending you.

The new editor brought a greater emphasis on things that interest middle school girls, which is exactly what the series needed, in a sense. More importantly, the series changed from being standalone books to trilogies.

The Perfect Mystery Trilogy was strong overall, but I greatly disliked the final book. Everything that happened in Book 3 could have been done in one chapter, at the end of Book 2. This is the main problem with the Girl Detective trilogies; they ALL would be better off as duologies. If you have three books of material, great! If you only have two books of material, please don't stretch that out into a trilogy.

The Identity Mystery Trilogy was a cyberbully mystery, which felt new and different. I liked it. This time, the second book of the trilogy is the bad one, with a culprit whose motive is ridiculous. The final book is fantastic, which more than makes up for the minor failings of the other two books.

The Model Mystery trilogy was just plain awful, and it had nothing at all to do with models. It was all about fake wedding drama and a reality TV show. The second book is a repeat of the first book, and the culprit doesn't show up until Book 3, so really, the first two books didn't matter. Ugh.

The Eco-Mystery Trilogy is more of the same. That is, it has the exact same plot structure as the previous trilogy. Which is a problem with the trilogies; they're too similar. Before even starting this trilogy, I correctly guessed the culprit was the rich business person, because that's who it was in the first two trilogies.

The Sabotage Mystery Trilogy highlights another problem with the trilogies: *continuity!*. Two different authors worked on this trilogy, and it's so obvious they didn't consult with each other that TV Tropes uses this trilogy as their example of flip-flopping ghostwriters.

The final trilogy is Malibu Mayhem Trilogy, and it was surprisingly good! Nancy meets a bunch of celebrities, with a focus on the Kardashian sisters. The celebrity stuff was tacky at times, but the main mystery was about a cult leader named Roland, and it was fantastic. The problem that this trilogy highlights is Nancy's willingness to overlook obvious clues, in order to have a surprise culprit at the end of the book. Authors, it's okay for Nancy to suspect the culprit before the final chapter.

So that's it for the Girl Detective series. Overall, I'm not a big fan of it; I prefer the 1980's Nancy Drew reboot. The changes they made to the series were not as good as they could have been; specifically, they shouldn't have had Klutzy Nancy, and Ned should have been changed. Some readers felt the series was dumbed down, to fit a younger target audience, but the series definitely has its moments.

I'd say about a fourth of the books are great, a fourth are awful, and the rest fall somewhere in between.

Unless I made a mistake with the math, my average score for this series is a 5.57 out of 10. The score raises to a 5.7, if you don't include the trilogy books.

The trilogies had their problems, and considering how unpopular they were with readers, it was inevitable that the series would be cancelled and rebooted again.

Will this series be remembered 50 years from now? No. The only Nancy Drew series that has stood the test of time is the original series. It's only been three years since Girl Detective ended, and most libraries have gotten rid of their copies of these books.

Besides for the 25th Nancy Drew game, everything from the Girl Detective series has been officially eliminated from the Nancy Drew franchise.

With ONE exception. When they started the third "Nancy Drew for eight-year-old series this year...Deirdre Shannon was there. Deirdre Shannon is always there.

Stay sleuthy, detectives!


Meg said...

Great post! I think that some of the books were interesting, but others were incredibly bland and repetitive. The biggest annoyance about this series for me is that they made Nancy first person, but they didn't show many inner-conflicts with the exception of "Oh! I had a date with Ned 5 hrs ago! Whoops, hope he doesn't hate me!" I think that really disabled the series. One thing I did love though is that typically the events of the story were explained thoroughly in the each ending; the earlier books (I'm thinking specifically of The Secret in the Old Lace) failed to do this.

Anonymous said...

Yeeeeeeeaaaah, the library thing is too true. My school library has NO copies and neither does my public library. And it's not like my school library is short on other Nancy Drew books (we have like 30 of them). But my local public library on the other hand.... not so much. They have like 10 books. I've read them all. :(