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The Clue in the Old Stagecoach - C. Keene

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Genre: Junior Books / Author: C. Keene / Edition: New edition / Hardcover / Reading Level: Ages 9-12 / 192 Pages / Book is published 2002-04-01 by Grosset and Dunlap

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      11.08.2009 14:02
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      A nostalgic read

      Nancy Drew, along with her best friends George and Bess, are on holiday...but Nancy's reputation precedes her and she is soon embroiled in a new mystery. An old lady's Great Uncle hid a clue to a huge fortune in an old stagecoach, and now the local town is in dire need of money to improve the school system. Nancy and friends are soon on the hunt for the apparently buried stagecoach, but there are people who seem to want to stop them. Who will manage to get to the clue in the stagecoach first? And who are these enemies that are so keen to beat Nancy to it?

      Nancy Drew was very much part of my childhood and I still enjoy the odd read - it is usually mindless and fairly innocent. And looking at it superficially, Nancy is a reasonable role model for young girls of any generation - she is beautiful, smart, responsible and fair and everyone loves her. The fact that she is only a teenager, yet everyone is eager for her to sort out their problems is somehow accepted. However, I'm beginning to have my doubts about this. Nancy is so perfect that anyone reading the books is bound to be embued with a slight sense of failure - I know I used to be - and it does seem rather worrying that young girls could be comparing themselves to this paragon of perfection. Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive, but I think there is too much pressure on young girls to attain unachievable goals via the television and other forms of media, without it coming from books as well. .

      George (a girl) and Bess are much more down to earth and realistic. Both are described as attractive, but George is boyish and quick-thinking, whereas Bess is 'plump' and decidedly slow. Basically, this serves to show Nancy in an even more glorious light. Still, at least there is some attempt to show readers that not every young girl has to be perfect, although it is probably a case of too little too late. Other characters in the book are either good or bad - there is nothing in between - it reminds me a little bit of Scooby Doo. Again, I'm not sure that that is a good thing to teach young people, particularly if they are impressionable, so parents must decide whether it is appropriate or not.

      The story is a reasonable one. It is completely unrealistic and Nancy manages to find out information that not even the police can, but this is a story and as entertainment, it is more than adequate. And although short (my version has just 150 pages), this means that the pacing is great - more or less every chapter ends with a cliffhanger - and it is very easy to read the whole thing in one setting. Compared to other stories in the Nancy Drew series, this is a fairly average one - they do tend to be quite formulaic, but then that is precisely why so many enjoy them. This is despite the fact that author Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym for a collection of writers that put the series together.

      The language used is very basic and ideal for the target audience - I would say this is about 11-16. There are apparently 175 Nancy Drew mysteries in all, written between 1930 and 2003 - this particular book, which is number seven in the series according to my book (published by Armada) and number thirty-seven according to Amazon (published by Grosset and Dunlap), was published in 1960. This means that the language is a little bit old-fashioned at times - George, for example, is fond of saying 'hypers!' to express surprise. I'm not sure that is terribly important though; I think it is good for young people to know that their 'language' hasn't always been the same.

      As a bit of light entertainment, this is an enjoyable book. You need to be able to suspend disbelief for the entire course of the book - how often is a teenager continually able to beat the police to the conclusion of a mystery? - but that is all part of the fun. As a work of literature, it is probably on a par with Enid Blyton - the language is correct, but it isn't going to win any literary prizes. Still, if it encourages teenagers to read, then that is fine. Just make sure that they realise that Nancy Drew is a made-up character and no child should base themselves on her apparent perfection.

      It isn't that easy to get hold of a new copy of this book, or any of the earlier Nancy Drews, at least not in the UK. However, there are second-hand editions available on Amazon UK from 1p (although postage obviously needs to be added to this). The edition on Amazon is hard-back and published by Grosset and Dunlap - it has 192 pages. ISBN-10: 0448095378

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