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The History of YA Amateur Sleuths: Nancy Drew & the Hardy Boys
"Reading fulfills a hunger we all share, a need to make some sense out of life, and to do it through words - not through the pictures that fly by in movie theaters and on the television screens, but with images we develop in our own imaginations, at our own pace. That's an experience only a book can deliver."
~ The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys, 2007
Books, like fashion, like films, like almost anything in the world, set and follow trends. It has crests and troughs like waves hoping to crash into the right shore. Nowadays, Young Adult (YA) novels are a hit, whether romance, dystopian, or real-life drama, but the YA fiction genre wasn't always around.
It emerged in the midst of the transitional period from books to television as forms of leisure and entertainment before merchandisers and producers figured out that the adolescents and teenagers are a gold mine of a market.
The man who saw this, way before TV shows and products began aiming at young adults, was Edward Stratemeyer, who began producing a series of adventure and detective fiction that would introduce into the world the stories of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.
Teens at the Helm of Crime-Solving
I've read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys back in my grade school and high school days. I've always loved stories of mystery, intrigue, and adventure where the ones who get to do all those things were adolescents like me. Sadly, Philippine literature was lacking in that genre.Undaunted, I delved into the classic
Undaunted, I delved into the classic hardbound covers in our library and came upon a teenage sleuth who solved cases with her wits and strength without needing a guy to save her from every danger. Yes, it was old, but back then I thought it was worth a try.
I read Nancy Drew, and I also read her counterpart, brother amateur detectives Frank and Joe Hardy. Overtime, I found Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories in the modern setting. Unfortunately, when my high school journey ended, so did my habitual reading of the adventures of the young detectives.
From Past to Present
The Boom of YA Novels
I went to read more sophisticated novels as I got older. I hungered for more adventures with more intrigue, treachery, danger, drama, tragedy, and action. I looked for high fantasy and epic fantasy books. I devoured Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Mitch Albom, and more.
The era of Harry Potter propelled adventure fiction into the silver screen, once again drawing on teenage characters. Of course, after the Harry Potter era, more YA books were produced in mass numbers. The Twilight Saga paved the way for the return of paranormal romance. Now, a sub-category of YA fiction is the dystopian future where survival of morals and the existence of justice and equality are constantly threatened by a tyrannical government.
What's so special about these teen detectives?
I have to say that until I had read The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys, I had all but forgotten the series that had spanned more than six decades since the 1920's. There was a reason I fell in love with them back then. I remembered those reasons now, and I have found more reasons to love them and to continue reading their adventures.
The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books were very popular because they were breakthroughs in the field of "children's literature". The genre aimed at teenagers was not even a genre yet. Frank and Joe were not hampered by cliques, locations, money, or natural talents when it came to helping out innocents scammed of their money.
They were boys who could think on their feet, had good friends, didn't smoke, drink, or steal. They were praised and respected by everyone. They were not weighed down by homework and sports clubs, yet they emerged as heroes.
Nancy, meanwhile, was wildly popular because she gave the girls a taste of control and freedom in a man's world. Nancy was a girl who wore the right clothes and had the right virtues, but she was no goody-two-shoes. She stood up for herself.
She never backed down from her opponents, even if they were men or adults or people in authority, especially when she knew she was right. She also didn't need a man to protect her from the dangers that her sleuthing brought. It's rare nowadays to see original fiction novels about teens without powers sleuthing to solve crimes.
The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew loved adventure, solving mysteries, and helping people. True, they were not like the very dynamic characters of the YA novels today with complicated romances or worlds to free or people to lead. but they're the characters who teach us that good will triumph over evil. and that even young adults without a chosen fate or powers can do their best to help others.
But they were characters who taught readers that even young adults, without a chosen fate or powers, could do their best to help others.