The Secret of the Mansion (Trixie Belden #1)
by Julie Campbell
First published 1948
My history with this book
I was a big Trixie Belden fan as a child, and I owned 8 or 9 of the books, but I don’t think I ever read The Secret of the Mansion, which is the first book in the series. I didn’t own a copy of it as a child (I’ve since remedied that), and the story didn’t seem at all familiar to me as I read it.
Trixie Belden was one of my favorite series as a child. Trixie is sort of the anti-Nancy Drew. She’s 13 and definitely imperfect. She lives on a farm in with her parents, two older brothers, and a bratty little brother. She has lots of chores (which she usually doesn’t want to do), she’s bright and inquisitive, and she’s also sometimes rash and impulsive.
When the book opens, Trixie is on summer break, and she’s bored to tears. Her older brothers are away working as camp counselors, and she doesn’t see her school friends much during the summer since the farm is far from town. Things start to look up when a new family moves into the estate next door. The new neighbors are a very wealthy couple with a daughter named Honey who is Trixie’s age. Trixie befriends Honey, and together, they investigate the supposedly empty run-down mansion of their neighbor, a miser who’s been hospitalized with a serious illness.
Trixie is an imperfect heroine. She’s bright and well-meaning, but she often says or does the wrong thing. When she first meets Honey, she finds the other girl stuck up and she often thinks of Honey as a “sissy” and “fraidy cat,” because Honey is more cautious (i.e., sensible) than Trixie. Honey is still recovering from a serious illness and her overprotective mother hasn’t let her do much, so she’s not as physically adept as Trixie. But Honey ends up being an excellent counterbalance to Trixie’s impulsive nature, and the friendship they form is one of my favorite things about this series.
There’s something idyllically simple about these books. Trixie is 13, but her biggest problems are trying to earn enough money to buy herself a horse and having to do chores and babysit her little brother. She seems a little younger than what I think of as a typical 13-year-old, but I suppose that’s a reflection of the time the books were written. There are some serious issues dealt with in the book. Trixie and Honey befriend Jim, an orphan who’s run away from his abusive stepfather. (The book is rather matter of fact about the fact that Jim is regularly beaten by his stepfather.) Honey seems to suffer from pretty severe anxiety, as a result of her illness and overprotection from her parents. In the beginning of the book, she has terrible nightmares and is afraid of almost everything. Trixie views the elderly miser in the run-down mansion as a mean old crank, but she then learns that a terrible tragedy in his life made him into a miserable person.
I really enjoyed The Secret of the Mansion, and it made me remember why I liked this series so much. I’m not sure if the quality holds up throughout the series. Julie Campbell wrote the first six books, and the remaining 33 were written by a series of ghost writers under the name Kathryn Kenny. I liked all the books I read as child, and I’m curious to see how they hold up now.
Does it hold up?
Yes, pretty well.
Is there any objectionable content?
I was taken aback when Trixie thinks of Honey as a “sissy,” but that’s the only objectionable language I noticed in the book.
Can you read it aloud?
It’s probably a bit too long.
Would I want my kid to read it?
The Secret of the Mansion is out of print, but still available in a Random House edition published in the past 10 years or so. Used copies aren’t hard to find, and it’s also available as an ebook.