Growing Up Girls: Popular Culture and the Construction of Identity

By Sharon R. Mazzarella; Norma Odom Pecora | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Identity by Design: The Corporate Construction of Teen Romance Novels

Norma Pecora

The contribution of teen novels to the construction of young girls' identity has been well-established. In casual conversation women will often reveal stories about growing up with Nancy or Jessica and Elizabeth -- the characters from the Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High young adult series books. In the past, these extraordinarily popular novels have represented intrigue and romance portrayed by characters who are themselves teenagers. Now Nancy and her pals and Jessica and Elizabeth are growing up and going off to college, adding yet another dimension to the characters as well as twenty more books to buy each year. Using Janice Radway's analysis of romance novels as a model, this essay will explore the ideological consequences of "an event that is affected and at least partially controlled by the material nature of book publishing" (20). Building on Radway's work, I will examine, first, the industry trends that have led to new versions of the Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley Twins series novels. Second, I will explore how the shift from mystery genre to romance genre in the early 1980s redefined the character of the Nancy Drew novels. And, finally, I will compare the representation of college life in the newest in the series, Nancy Drew on Campus and Sweet Valley University, with the experience of real young women finishing their first year of college. These books suggest that dating and social alienation are the central plot in the day-to-day lives of college women, while interviews with freshmen girls at a midwestern state college indicate that their experiences are much more complex and multidimensional. 1

Nancy Drew started life in the 1930s as a "spunky" young girl clever at solving mysteries. Jessica and Elizabeth began life in the early 1980s

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