How did Nancy Drew have so many adventures (at least 175 at this point) between the ages of 16 and 18? That's a rate of almost one hair-raising, life-threatening countdown to certain death every week for three years. In Chelsea Cain's loving parody Confessions Of A Teen Sleuth, Nancy herself gives the answer: Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew books, stole Nancy's true sleuthing tales when the two of them were roommates at Bryn Mawr. Keene also tried to kill Nancy out of jealousy, and made her perfectly normal-sized friend Bess into a fatty in the books, giving her lifelong self-esteem problems. But Cain wants Drew to grow up and grow old just the way she started: in love with mysteries, a little too smart for stolid Ned Nickerson, certain that evil doesn't go much further than stolen jewels or rags soaked with chloroform. Her memoir is breezy fun with a heart of gold.
In some ways, Nancy's life proceeds predictably. She marries her steady date Ned (whose football injury keeps him out of World War II), bears Ned Junior ("like a stolen heirloom and a secret treasure all rolled into one"), investigates suspected communists in the '50s, trades in her roadsters for a station wagon, and eventually has to get her titian hair from a bottle. But she's keeping a secret: A lifelong love for Frank Hardy—the older, darker Hardy boy—who shares her thirst for sleuthing, and periodically calls on her to perform a daring deed. She's shadowed by jealous Cherry Ames, until the student nurse's untimely murder (which Nancy, of course, solves). She sleuths alongside Christopher Cool, Tom Swift, and Encyclopedia Brown (a middle-aged nerdy blob who still lives with his parents). Her trail of clues takes her to a Japanese internment camp in 1944, Eisenhower's Oval Office in 1953, the Congo in 1959, and Haight-Asbury in 1967. And in every chapter, somewhat bewilderingly, somebody ends up bound and gagged.
The in-jokes come tumbling over each other in this slender volume. Tom Swift speaks in Tom Swiftlies. ("The Netherlands?' Tom asked flatly.") Chris Cool's Apache Indian sidekick Geronimo needles Cool for his clumsy political correctness. Encyclopedia Brown gets the villain to confess simply by urging him to guess how Encyclopedia knew he committed the crime. In the end, Cain has Nancy articulate the enduring value of teen sleuths: "Our characters offer girls independent, plucky protagonists who can problem-solve and escape from pirates." And if we want to squeeze every possible adventure into their packed teenage years, Nancy has an answer for that dilemma, too: "It's their youth they want to hang on to… Not ours."