It was the summer before fifth grade and I had just turned eleven. Once again, I would be the newkid in school and I spent several weeks staring out the window, picking apart the girls who walked by, trying to guess by their mannerisms and clothing if they would accept me.
By nature I wasn’t shy but years of moving around, sometimes cycling through two or even three schools in a single year, had taught me to be…careful. By studying the locals first I could copy them, lessening the risk that that I would spend my lunch hours alone, pretending to read a book.
As I peered through the window, a cranberry sedan pulled into my driveway. I watched as two figures talked in the front seat. Eventually they emerged, carrying several large sacks and boxes. I recognized them as my grandmother and her new husband whom I hadn’t seen in over a year.
I could hear excited squeals as my mother and siblings ran out to greet them, but I stayed sequestered in my room. I was at the age where family affairs took a back seat to more pressing issues, like my quest for popularity. A knock on the door let me know that my lack of presence had been noticed. I opened the door to find my new step-grandfather standing there, a small bag dangling from his hand.
“Thought you might like this,” he said, handing me the bag. “I picked it out myself.”
I raised a suspicious eyebrow at him. “You did? Why?”
“Well, we’re both newcomers to this family. We have to stick together.”
I took the bag and pulled out a yellow and blue hardcover book. I searched the rest of the bag, hoping for something else, like money.
“Nancy Drew,” he explained. “My daughter loved it when she was your age. I thought you might too.”
“Okay,” I said. I took the book, closed the door, and flung it on my bed.
Dusk had settled and the neighborhood quieted as kids were summoned into their houses for supper. My mom announced that it was Shepherd’s Pie for dinner, and I faked a stomachache. With nothing else to do I fell onto the bed and opened the book. Anything was better than Shepherd’s Pie.
I had read books before. I had grown up on the staple of children’s books available at that time,
works by Cleary and Blume. But there was something different about this book. I wasn’t just reading the story. I was immersed in it.
Maybe it was because Nancy was my first grown up protagonist. Through her I was transported to an adult world where girls were allowed to make their own decisions, date, and drive. In addition, she was bright and curious, traits my teachers also accused me of, and I felt a kinship with the ‘girl detective’.
The more I read about Nancy the more I loved her. I dove into the book, coming up for air and food only briefly and at the insistence of my mother, and had the entire novel read in one long weekend.When I closed that last page I was confronted by an emotion I had never experienced when reading a book: loss.
I was never going to see Nancy again!
The realization, along with prepubescent hormones, made me burst into tears.
I couldn’t lose Nancy. I just couldn’t. I picked the book again. I wasn’t ready to part with my new heroine, and I would simply read it again. That’s when I noticed a long list of other titles on the back of the book. Nancy solved many mysteries, not just this one!
From that day on, I was hooked. I begged my mom for odd jobs to earn enough money to buy another book. It wasn’t enough to borrow them from the library, I needed to own them. To possess them. I couldn’t bear to part with one, after it had become such a part of me. Whenever I was alone, I would look at my bookshelf – which was growing rapidly – and know that I had a friend there. All I had to do was open a book.
Nancy taught me a lot that summer: I learned new vocabulary words including “chided” and“titian-haired” and “sleuth”. I learned that there were sinister people in the world but if you were pure of heart you could overcome them. And I learned that just because you lost one parent, it didn’t mean you were lost.
Admittedly, Nancy also got me into trouble. I started seeing clues, and secret passages and mysteries everywhere. I tried to convince my little sister to climb into the heating duct because I was sure there was treasure hidden there (luckily she didn’t). And once I had my parents call the police because I was convinced I had witnessed a murder. I had been out riding my bike and was sure a man had threatened a woman with a knife. Upon investigation, it was determined to be a pork chop bone.
When school started I was a different person, poised and ready to take on the world. Nancy could do it.
So could I.
That year I strode into the classroom, not caring at all what I was wearing. I took my seat among a classroom of strangers, smiled confidently, and raced through my schoolwork so that I could read the next chapter of a really good book. I must have been intriguing to the other girls, for I never sat alone at the lunch table. Even when I wanted to.
In the years since fifth grade my tastes have changed, but my love of a good story hasn’t. Every time I pick up a new book, my fingers twitch, my mouth goes dry, and my heart races. I’m off an adventure and I just can’t wait to get started.
I still feel a sense of loss when I read those two dreaded words: The End. But with the help of a Kindle and a Nook, I’ve learned to curtail my book hording tendencies. I don’t need to see them in order to be transported back. I will always have them. I just have to remember.
By April Aasheim. Originally published on TheIndieExchange.com Feb 5, 2013