My brain is just cocky enough that it has decided to talk about a book it has not read in over twenty years. What is wrong with you, brain?? But this lump of neurons and axons has a stubborn streak and so here we are, talking about Trixie Belden.
I am sure many of you have never heard of Trixie, and I am equally sure that those of you who have are rabid fans. Unless you made a brief detour from Nancy Drew town and in the end decided you loved your rich white lady more. In which case, boo to you! Trixie Belden doesn’t need money or a red Fiat or whatever the hell it is Nancy Drew drives. Trixie Belden doesn’t even have a horse. That’s how hardcore she is.
I was so in love with this fictional heroine that I named my hamster after her when I was nine. My boy hamster. Although I didn’t know he was a boy at the time I named him. Why did Trixie captivate me so? What was this spell she cast?
She was just this girl, this thirteen-year-old girl, who went around and solved mysteries. She had sandy blond curls which I, being of straight and black hair, coveted. She was poor. I was poor. She had older brothers. When I read about her older brothers, I wished I had some. She was everything I wanted to be. And all those books about her (thirty-nine of them) showed me how I could get there.
I literally had every single one of the books. I spent every penny of my allowance on them. I read them over and over and over. To this day, I don’t think I have loved a book more than I loved the Trixie Belden series. I’m sure that’s due to the fact that my eight- to twelve-year-old self was not that discerning a reader (if it had words printed on it, I would read it), but I also think the series had some serious things to recommend itself.
For one, this was a series of books about a girl just entering adolescence, something I rarely encountered as a young reader headed in that direction. She was also curious almost to the point of stupidity, self-conscious in a lot of ways, brash, tomboyish and more than a little bit foolhardy. And I just did not come across that many books that made it okay to be a tomboy, or to be curious or to ask questions and try and figure things out when you’re a girl. (Harriet the Spy springs to mind, of course, and that was probably my second-favourite book of all time.) In solving her mysteries, Trixie was teaching me and all her other obsessed readers how to be good scientists and intelligent people.
She gathered clues and evidence. She didn’t just accept things at face value. When confronted with a problem or puzzling issue, she kept at it until she came up with an answer that satisfied her and made sense in the framework of what she knew of the world. She did research.
She worked with her best friend Honey (who was rich, but lonely and inevitably described as some kind of attractive, thus offering up a more typical lady protagonist for when/if us tomboys eventually decided we wanted to be more mainstream) and her brothers (who were all hot, so we could have something to turn our pre-lusty thoughts to) to get to the bottom of things. Trixie never waited for things to happen; she made things happen.
And this might be the key to her enduring popularity. I mean, the first book was published in 1948! And the last one? 1986. Clearly, this series was speaking to someone, even if the majority of people I meet have never heard of it. (Actually, now that I am thinking of it, I have never met anyone else who had read these books. But the presence of Trixie fansites assures me that I am not alone.) And I recently presented my eight-year-old niece with her first Trixie Belden book. Her reaction? She special ordered the next two in the series with her own money.
Trixie taught me (and probably all those other girls) that it was okay to be strong, to be smart, to be capable and be a girl. We could be all of that. We could be awesome. We could look in the mirror and maybe not feel totally perfect and awesome, and still go out and kick ass. Because how we look is not who we are, despite what everything else in the world was trying to tell us. The only thing I could not understand about Trixie (aside from her intense longing to have a horse) was her dislike of mathematics. Math is awesome.
I thought about re-reading these books before writing this. But I realized that Trixie Belden was not written for who I am now; those books were written for who I was then. And I know I will only turn my critical grown-up eye on them and get all judge-y, find all the ways that they are not “great literature”. So I am letting the mark they made on me speak for itself. The mysteries she solves are no doubt cheesy in this day and age, and the language she uses on the archaic side. (She calls her mom “Moms”. That is just plain weird.) When I gave my niece The Secret of the Mansion, I worried that she might not relate to it, not find it as compelling as I did. When I heard that she was devouring the rest of the series, I realized that Trixie’s power is not in great writing or complex mysteries. She is simply a girl, a real girl, and that is something other girls want to read about.