11 Things Nancy Drew Taught Me About Life


Nancy Drew solved mysteries…and in the process taught us how to face life with curiosity and class. Read on for eleven timeless life lessons from everyone’s favourite titian-haired amateur sleuth.

Stack of hardback Nancy Drew books with the yellow spines

What Nancy Drew Taught Me About Life

Like many girls in the 90s (and for that matter, the previous six decades!) I grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. My local library sported a long row of the classic yellow-bound editions, and my older sister and I would make our selections based on two things:

  1. the title, and especially
  2. the scariness of the cover

The scariest cover I could find was The Haunted Bridge, so that’s the one I checked out first. Unfortunately, I’d bit off more than I could chew; at that point it was the longest book I’d attempted besides Elsie Dinsmore. I quit and went back to reading American Girl books for a few months. When I tackled Nancy Drew again, I picked up The Mystery of the Glowing Eye.

And this time I was completely, irrevocably, totally hooked for life.

From then on my reading record was peppered with Nancy Drew books, squeezed in between required school reads. As long as I kept up with the school list, Mom didn’t mind how many Carolyn Keene books I checked out.

As she was for thousands of other girls, Nancy Drew was a role model for me. I probably didn’t consciously realise it at the time, but looking back I’m glad I spent all those hours with a heroine so loyal, courageous, and resourceful. Well, there is one clear lesson the Nancy Drew books emblazoned in my 9-year-old mind: never trust the guy in the black sedan.

Also, I wanted my own convertible. But mine was going to be red.

A couple of years ago, I picked up The Mystery of the Tolling Bell at a used bookstore. Had Nancy Drew stood the test of time? My question was answered a few pages in: the girl sleuth hadn’t grown a day older, but her appeal had aged nicely.

It is with fond respect that I offer this list of handy life lessons from Nancy Drew.

Stack of yellow hardback Nancy Drew books, showing the back cover

11 Life Lessons from Nancy Drew

1. Follow that hunch.

Nancy doesn’t downplay her intuition. Time and again, her hunches are proved right. The takeaway? Don’t be afraid to test a theory, and go with your gut.

2. Relieve suffering wherever you find it.

Did you notice that Nancy and her friends are never too busy to help someone in need? They befriend the lonely, cheer up the grieving, lend their aid to a floundering small business owner, or help a lost child find her parents. Their kindness is often repaid in unexpected ways, but a reward is never their motive.

3. Always leave a note.

This is a Nancy Drew life lesson that I actually did pick up on when I was young. Nancy’s always flitting off to follow up a clue, but she’s really good about leaving a note behind for her dad or Ned Nickerson so they don’t worry. That’s just considerate. Also, it could save your life…or prevent the bad guys from getting away.

4. Friends are golden.

You can’t have a Nancy Drew story without Bess Marvin and George Fayne. Each of the girls brings her own qualities to the trio, whether it’s George’s handy Judo skills or Bess’s sudden fits of inspiration (or reminders to stop for lunch). Friends are the best when you’re solving mysteries–or just having fun around River Heights.

Related: Here are some of my other favourite friendships in literature!

5. Keep an eye out for suspicious characters.

Like all good sleuths, Nancy has excellent situational awareness. Being a good observer might not land you as many mysteries as Nancy finds, but it could definitely help keep you and the people you care about safe.

6. Nurture a good relationship with your parents.

Carson Drew is Nancy’s ally in every case (even when they don’t know they’re working on the same one!). Their father-daughter relationship is built on trust and mutual respect. Hannah Gruen, the mother figure in Nancy’s life, is always ready as a support and confidante. Want a good adult relationship with your parents? Do your part to make it happen.

Cover interior of classic Nancy Drew books, with illustrations of other books in the Nancy Drew series

7. Embrace adventure.

Nancy gets a twinkle in her eye at the prospect of a new mystery. She’s always up for a challenge and an adventure–hiking mountains, hopping in a boat, exploring an old tunnel, you name it. Be brave like Nancy and have some fun!

8. Sticky situations always have a way out.

It seems like Nancy gets captured or trapped in pretty much every book. But does she merely sit and await rescue? Not Nancy Drew! She’s creative and proactive, exploring the room for trapdoors or preparing for the opportune moment to make her escape. In your own life you might not face a vat of boiling water as Nancy does in The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion, but there are plenty of tough situations you can think and act your way out of!

9. Be prepared.

Remember how Nancy always keeps a packed bag in the trunk of her car? She’s ready for whatever life throws at her, heading off problems before they pop up. And when things don’t pan out the way she expects, Nancy’s adaptable and flexible, two traits I bet we could all use daily!

10. Dress up a little every day.

Nancy Drew fans know that the girl sleuth didn’t just solve mysteries–she looked good doing it! I always admired Nancy’s style, but now I also respect that old-fashioned practice of dressing up. Looking competent made Nancy be more competent. Another bonus: having lipstick on hand is super useful if you need to write a quick S.O.S. message on the window of a flying helicopter. (Hat tip to The Mystery of the Fire Dragon.)

11. Be a lifelong learner.

Whether it’s skin diving or flying an airplane, Nancy is always up for learning a new skill. She’s got a curiosity and zest for life that serve her well not just for solving mysteries, but for seizing any opportunity that knocks.

What life lessons did you glean from Nancy Drew, and what’s your favourite Nancy Drew book?

Nancy Drew fun facts: The 60s-style Nancy Drew books I grew up reading weren’t the original originals. The first Nancy Drew books were published from 1930 to the late 1950s. In the 60s and 70s, the original 34 volumes were revised and another 22 books added to the canon. The biggest difference between the originals and the revised books are that the latter are shorter and more tightly plotted.

Years after I became a Nancy Drew fan, I got my hands on a copy of the 1937 edition of The Haunted Bridge. Funnily enough, with all the volumes I’d read I had never returned to that first attempt. It was a satisfying moment. After reading it, I decided I’m more at home in the yellow-bound volumes of the 60s…but it’s nice to know I have more to explore when it comes to classic Nancy Drew(:

The Nancy Drew Wikipedia article is a fascinating look at the background to this classic series and its creators. Here are some fun Nancy Drew-related books on my TBR list:

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew by Melanie Rehak - yellow cover with vintage drawing of Nancy Drew The Official Nancy Drew Handbook by Penny Warner - blue background with silhouette of a woman shining a flashlight beam Clues for Real Life by Stephanie Karpinske - book cover collage with images of classic 1960s Nancy Drew books

Other posts I have a hunch you’ll like:

11 Things Nancy Drew Taught Me About Life

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  1. I love the Nancy Drew books! I bought the Clues for Real Life book, three copies of them! Also bought the jigsaw puzzle and a journal.

  2. I still haven’t forgiven my mother for selling my Nancy Drew collection at a yard sale ( classic yellow editions which believe cost me $1.95 new ) ! I loved having such a smart and resourceful role model in Nancy. My favourite was The Mystery of the Glowing Eye in which she has to rescue Ned Nickerson! I’ve been of mysteries ever since.

    1. Yes, Nancy Drew is what got me hooked on mysteries for life, too! What a loss you’ve sustained with all those books gone!! I’m sure whoever bought them was ecstatic(; If you have a 2nd and Charles (chain secondhand bookstore) near you, check that out…I’ve seen many yellow-bound copies there!

  3. Oh my! This brings back such great memories! Nancy Drew was my all-time favorite series when I was a kid. I couldn’t get enough. I need to remember those lessons and follow my hunches more often:) Thanks for bringing those memories back in this great post!

  4. This was such a fun read. I started reading Nancy Drew when I was 10 in 1973. A dear aunt gave me Password To Larkspur Lane for Christmas. It is still my favorite. I bought several with birthday or Christmas money and checked others out of the library. And as a budding cook, I really enjoyed the Nancy Drew Cookbook and still make Hannah’s Cheese Puff. Im going to dig up my Nancy Drew books and re-read them.

    1. What a good thing for an aunt to share with her niece! That’s a special memory. I’ll have to check out the Nancy Drew cookbook, if it’s still in print! In that vein, growing up we really enjoyed the Mayberry Cookbook (Andy Griffith) and Little House Cookbook, and made lots of dishes out of those. I also remember reading Larkspur Lane and it was one of my favourites…probably an indicator of how much I would fall in love with the Gothic genre down the road!

  5. I started reading Nancy Drew in 1964 while in in 5th grade. My best friend got the whole collection handed down to her from her older sister. She let me, my twin sister and our 2 other friends borrow them. By the 6th grade we had formed a Nancy Drew Club. We did some crazy things as part of the club. I have hunted my collection of about 28 books from garage sales and thrift stores. I’m very disappointed that my granddaughter, who is now 13 doesn’t want to read them. She’s into the Harry Potter books. I’ve enjoyed rereading my Nancy Drew books.

    1. Eve, what special memories those are! It is a little sad when these things aren’t appreciated by other readers, if when we *know* they’d like them, if they just gave them a chance! I love Louise’s suggestions to keep trying(:

  6. The Harry Potter books won’t last her forever. Keep suggesting once she’s done with the HP series. Maybe drop a book off to her house. Or give her one to take on a car trip.

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