Missing Millie Benson

Julie K. Rubini (Ohio University Press)

click to enlarge 'Missing Millie Benson'
'Missing Millie Benson'

While listed by its publisher as a biography for young readers, some of us who are not so young may want to share this new book as well. Millie Benson wrote 23 of the first 30 Nancy Drew mystery novels under the name Carolyn Keene. Owned by the publisher, it was the pseudonym of all Nancy Drew authors, but it seems Benson established the brand.Several generations have read Nancy Drew voraciously, including me. The series continues to be read today. Benson’s inaugural volumes have since been updated — a necessity to keep them relevant, as the first appeared in1930. Benson herself turns out to be something like her heroine: independent, curious, smart.She was born in 1905 of pioneer parents in Iowa, making up stories early on and reading "every book in town” as a child. The University of Iowa was exactly the right place for someone like her; it encouraged women’s education and had a strong journalism department. She also met her first husband there, married and, already a career writer, moved with him to Cleveland. Her fortuitous arrangement with the Stratemeyer Syndicate — which had already dreamed up the idea of Nancy — came about and the series began.Benson, who lived to be almost 97, in the end had a huge list of published works under various names — including her own — learned to pilot airplanes, married a second time after the death of her first husband and generally behaved as one might expect Nancy Drew to. This biography is interesting for its look at the times as well as at its subject, but somehow does not give us a sense of what it might have been like to know her. Knowing a great deal about her doesn’t tell us what she laughed at, what she deeply cared about. Grade: A-

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