Series Book Spotlight: Trixie Belden: The Secret of the Mansion

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.

My thoughts
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 beimg_3179ing 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?
Yes.

Availability
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.

 

Series Book Spotlight: The Moonstone Castle Mystery: My First Nancy Drew

The Moonstone Castle Mystery
Carolyn Keene
First published 1963

My history with this book
The Moonstone Castle Mystery was my very first Nancy Drew book. I was around 6 or 7, and I was with my father in a used bookstore. I was bored, until I noticed a bookcase filled with books with yellow spines. I started looking at them, and my father said I could pick one out to buy. I remember being very undecided because all of the covers looked so appealing, but I eventually decided on The Moonstone Castle Mystery, because I was really into castles, and the image of the three women approaching the castle intrigued me.

My thoughts
This book was interesting to re-read. I was a huge Nancy Drew fan as a child, and I’ve begun working my way through the original 56 books, some of which I’m reading for the first time. I’m writing about this one because it was my introduction to Nancy Drew, but it’s really an average entry in the series.

If you know nothing about Nancy Drew, she’s a teenage girl who solves mysteries. Her father is a famous attorney, and Nancy often gets involved in his cases. She’s usually assisted by her two sidekicks, “plump” Bess and “tomboyish” George. Nancy is described as “attractive” and “titian-haired.” She’s nearly perfect in every way, and she always solves the crime.

The Moonstone Castle Mystery has two common Nancy Drew tropes: elderly women being bilked of their fortunes and a long-lost heiress. Carson Drew is working with a couple who are searching for their lost granddaughter. Fifteen years earlier, the couple moved to Africa (just Africa, not an actual African country) to become missionaries, but they were taken captive by a hostile tribe. When they were finally freed, they learned that their granddaughter had disappeared after her other grandmother died (the child’s parents were also dead). While her father is investigating the case, Nancy receives a moonstone in the mail from an img_2739unknown sender. It soon becomes clear that the two mysteries are connected, and Nancy, George, and Bess travel to the nearby town of Deep River to do some investigating.

As an adult reading this one, I had to suspend disbelief quite a few times. Nancy walks into a bank, and the manager is perfectly willing to hand out confidential information. The police are just as forthcoming, looking up license numbers for her and praising her for finding her stolen car (something they weren’t able to do). I’m sure privacy laws weren’t quite so strict in 1963, but it’s still hard to imagine authority figures so easily cooperating with a teenage girl. Of course, that’s part of Nancy Drew’s appeal. Children are used to not being taken seriously, and it’s wish fulfillment to read about (and identify with) a young woman who has authority figures paying so much attention to her.

I enjoyed re-reading this one. It’s hardly the best mystery I’ve ever read (or even the best Nancy Drew), but it was enjoyable enough. There’s something comforting about Nancy Drew. She always solves the mystery and she doesn’t even break a sweat.

Does it hold up?
It holds up about as well as any Nancy Drew, but all classic Nancy Drew books may feel dated to today’s kids. This mystery in particular could probably have been solved in no time with internet access and a cell phone. Also, kids may find it odd that Nancy doesn’t go to school or have a job.

Is there any objectionable content?
Nothing terrible, but there’s some mild shaming of poor Bess for liking food. (And Africa being considered a country.)

Can you read it aloud?
It’s probably a bit long for that, and kids in the target age range are probably too old to enjoy being read it.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Sure, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he weren’t interested.

Availability
The book is still in print and use copies are plentiful. It’s also available as an ebook.