The Haunting of Heliotrope Lane (Nancy Drew Diaries #16) by Carolyn Keene

I’ve been reading the Nancy Drew Diaries to see how my favorite teen sleuth is being portrayed in the modern world, and my feelings on the subject are mixed. Most of the Diaries series consists of Nancy trying to figure out who is sabotaging something or someone, which is kind of a drag because in the original Nancy Drew Mysteries, she solved many different kinds of cases. Could The Haunting of Heliotrope Lane (Amazon) break the sabotage trope?

“Nancy’s classmate, Willa, needs her help. Willa is convinced something is terribly wrong with her friend Izzy, but everyone has dismissed Willa’s concerns, saying it’s just teen angst. But Willa thinks it’s more than that; she thinks Izzy is possessed.

It all started when Willa and Izzy snuck into an abandoned house with some of their friends. After running around and exploring, Willa went in to the basement and found Izzy staring into space. Izzy was conscious, but she was acting weird—she wouldn’t speak and she didn’t seem to recognize Willa. And when Izzy finally woke up from her trance, she had no memory of the previous few hours. Since then, Izzy’s continued to act strangely. She’s usually funny and easygoing, but now she’s high strung and has intense fits. Once she even threatened to hurt Willa.

Nancy is sure there’s a rational explanation for all of this and has a feeling she’ll find it at the “haunted” house. But what she finds has her questioning her resolve. Could Willa be right? Is Izzy possessed by the ghost of Heliotrope Lane?”

Great! A haunted house for Nancy and the gang to explore. No sabotage in sight. Points for that. But even the cover art is wrong. Mrs. Furstenberg’s house is very clearly described as a “small ranch-style home” with light blue singles that “had probably been a cute little house.” So that was disappointing. One of the things the original Nancy Drew Mysteries had going for it was a cover scene that was described in the book in some way. And there’s really no “haunting” per se, more of a supposed demon possession, done very badly at that, too.

But the Nancy Drew in The Haunting of Heliotrope Lane is markedly different than the Nancy I grew up with. Indeed, she’s always been portrayed in the Diaries differently, but even more so in The Haunting of Heliotrope Lane. She’s constantly frightened by sights and sounds and she sounds positively more like Bess than Nancy. She knows there’s no such thing as ghosts, yet she’s frightened anyway. As I’ve mentioned before, maybe it’s because the Diaries are written in the first person, but having Nancy do all this hemming and hawing and being full of self-doubt does not endear me to the 21st century Nancy. The fact that she’s frightened over this obviously fake demon possession makes her lose points with me.

I also had a few issues with the way Nancy “spoke” while narrating. She “almost peed myself” and then she mentions the death of Mrs. Furstenberg as something like “the body still cooling” which sounded rather callous and immature. One reviewer even mentioned profanity, which I totally missed both times I listened to the audiobook, so obviously what’s profanity to some is not profanity to all. The point being that these books are written in a way that do not endear themselves to older readers, they are definitely geared towards children and not the adult who grew up on Nancy Drew Mysteries.

There are some signs of the old Nancy, though. Investigating an abandoned house, for one. But as she finds out, a lot of teens have been exploring and trashing the house over the past few months. Mrs. Furstenberg died of a heart attack nine months before, or was it a heart attack? Her son, Henry, disappeared after her death even though he was set to inherit the house. Could he have had something to do with his mother’s death? Nancy and the gang visit the house even though it’s breaking and entering and end up getting caught and taken to the police station. Luckily all their parents are pretty chill with having to pick up their daughters from the station. And kudos to Bess to take her personal safety serious enough to carry pepper spray, although she’s given grief about it by her friends.

The climax was just WHOA! I don’t want to give too much away, but Nancy is in real peril from the bad guy, who explains, in Scooby Doo fashion, how the crimes were committed and what he was going to do next. Clearly not playing with a full deck. And his accomplices seemingly have no problems with the plans even though they involve murder and arson. Pretty heavy stuff for a children’s mystery. I’m used to Nancy being in peril: the amount of times she’s been kidnapped or locked up by the baddies is countless, but she always either a) had the means to escape or b) had Bess, George, her dad or Ned looking for her. But this ending seemed especially sinister.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is. Stay away from “demon possession,” protect yourself at all costs? Don’t go to horror movies if you have an active imagination? I’m not sure. It’s not like the original mysteries had a lesson for each book, they were just great adventures. But the Diaries series always seem to want to add some sort of lesson, like not excluding those who are different than you, or not trusting someone completely that you just met, just because you have a lot in common. I have no idea where this series is going. Maybe it will be back to sabotage for the next volume. Who knows? I’ll find out in two weeks when I read the next volume.

For my Nancy Drew book reviews, click here.

For more information about my favorite sleuth, check out Jenn Fisher’s Unofficial Nancy Drew website, which has a wealth of information.

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