Saturday, September 12, 2009

Trixie Belden #1: Secret of the Mansion

I thought this German edition cover was cute. (Image from

Trixie Belden is thirteen, spunky, headstrong, and cheerful.

When the story opens, it's summer, and her big brothers, Brian and Mart, are counselors at summer camp. As for Trixie, she's at home doing chores. Everything from babysitting her little brother, Bobby, to feeding chickens. Not fun, right? But Mrs. Belden suggests that she do extra house/yardwork to earn money for...a horse!

The adventure doesn't happen until Mr. Frayne, the cranky old neighbor who lives in the book title's mention, falls ill and goes to the hospital. Trixie talks about how anti-social he is and Mrs. Belden reminds her that Mr. Frayne hasn't had an easy life since Mrs. Frayne died from a snakebite. Meanwhile, Trixie tends the tomato garden, which is cool. Well, not literally cool--it's sweaty work, but it's "cool" that Trixie is willing to work. Nancy, as nice as she is, never spent her days like that. At least not daily.

Honey Wheeler and her family move next door up the hill. Honey is Trixie's age, but her life is just the opposite of Trixie's. Honey was very sick as a young child. When she finally got well, her mother basically piled all the motherly duties on Honey's au pair, Miss Trask. Now Honey's a nervous shrinking violet, but a very pleasant shrinking violet. Her parents still don't see her often, but don't worry, there's plenty of money for Honey's upkeep, reinforcing the "rich people are snobs who put money over their kids' happiness" ideology in a lot of YA books.

Honey and Trixie become fast friends, and being able to ride the Wheelers' horses sweetens the deal for Trixie. girls ride the Wheelers' horses. On one such venture, they find a boy their age sleeping in the Fraynes' disrepaired mansion. The adventures begin! This boy, Jim, claims that Mr. Frayne is his great-uncle. His proof, he says, is a family heirloom given to him. There is also a rumor of a family fortune. Jim wants a new home, and some support--away from his evil stepfather.

A lot of crazy events happen, which are a lot of fun. They seem a bit corny now, not as rereadable in my older years as Nancy Drew, but these are enjoyable for the 10-13 group*. The girls ride horses, explore the woods and mansion with Jim, look for the fortune, Trixie saves Bobby (after he's bitten by a copperhead), Honey gets stronger, Jim teaches them about animals. At one point, Trixie tries to be a know-it-all, then feels guilty, in a surprisingly three-dimensional portrayal of her character. Well, wouldn't you know, our gang finds a will. For some reason, though, despite all his fuss and angst, Jim doesn't do anything about it, because he's afraid of his stepdad. So what was all the hunting and searching and dreaming about a life-saving will for, Jim. Eh?

Honey tells Trixie about New York, and how people lock their doors and are too busy to visit all the time. GASP! Trixie is amazed. Giggle. Mr. Frayne dies. Gasp! A man in town is curious about an occasional sighting of Jim. The gang agrees to be more careful. They run around and ride some more. The next day, an inquiry regarding the Frayne heir shows up in the newspaper. Jim, afraid his stepfather will see this inquiry and come for him. Jim stakes out the Frayne mansion, protecting the heirlooms that are proof he's the Franye heir. So? Come out, make your case that you are the heir, Jim! But Evil Stepdad comes, and when walking the grounds, accidentally starts a fire when he drops a cigarette. Trixie, Honey and Jim try to suppress the fire before the fire crew comes. The hysteric stepfather screams about his stepson being burned, but eventually shows his true colors and freaks about the money being burned, right in front of the firefighters. The next day, Jim's gone, leaving a nice letter for Trixie and Honey. He has to leave. Then Mr. Rainsford, the attorney of the Frayne estate, appears. ;:) He makes an exciting announcement, and the girls go to ask Miss Trask if she'll drive them all over the country in Honey's red trailer to find Jim. Methinks there will be a mystery involved with this red trailer.
Trixie vs. Nancy

Nancy, generally through the early books and completely in the revisions, had that level, genteel attitude and perfectionism that was love-or-hate. I liked it. It was escapist, because I wanted to be so cool and collected. Yet I also knew it was bad writing, even for a series (the originals were much better, though). I like Trixie because she has a lot of faults, but she's not mean-spirited. She's "3-D" and fun. She's willing to accept her faults but realizes them too, and she doesn't try to be overperfect. The adults in this book aren't overly critical or preachy, although they are on the chintzy side. The secondary characters aren't sidekicks like Bess or Ned in Nancy Drew. :) However, my impressions of the mystery elements aren't as good. I don't really remember the Trixie Belden books I read (just plots and a few scenes), and in #1, the gang doesn't really try to solve a mystery. They look around a house, try to keep Jim under cover, and discover things randomly. It's kind of disjointed. Overall, I'd give this an 8/10