But Nancy remains a plucky teenager solving crimes in River Heights, USA, 80 years after the debut — on April 28, 1930 — of the first of 371 books credited to Carolyn Keene, a pen name for scores of ghostwriters.
A new anniversary edition of the first book, The Secret of the Old Clock (Grosset & Dunlap, $6.99), begins with a familiar image: "Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen, was driving home in her new, dark-blue convertible."
The writing was formulaic, the plot twists implausible, but it's Nancy Drew herself, "daring, intelligent, with tons of initiative," who continues to appeal to young readers, says Melanie Rehak, who wrote Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her in 2005.
All three women who have served on the Supreme Court —Sandra Day O'Connor, 80, raised on an Arizona ranch; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 77, who is Jewish, and Sonia Sotomayor, 55, a Puerto Rican, both from New York — cite Nancy Drew as an early influence.
"One of the raps against Nancy was she was a privileged, upper-class white girl who was perfect," Rehak says. "But children are willing to look beyond that if they like the character."
The books are especially popular with girls "whose moms steer them toward the series because of their own happy memories of it," says Karen MacPherson, a Takoma Park, Md., librarian.
Many, she says, prefer the older books to the newer, updated offshoot series, in which Nancy uses a cellphone and, most recently, becomes an "eco-detective."
The original books, revised in 1959 to omit racial stereotypes, were aimed at teens ages 13 to 16, but now appeal to younger readers. (The anniversary edition of Old Clock uses the revised text.)
"The original books had a thriller quality that's harder to achieve in modern settings," Rehak says. "They were more atmospheric, with tea parties and a girl in high heels and pencil skirts. Girls still like that."
The series was created by Edward Stratemeyer, a dime-novel genius who ran a kind of fiction factory that produced the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins.
Rehak has no doubts Nancy Drew will be celebrated on her 100th anniversary, "still handed down generation to generation."