Jeepers! It’s time to discuss The Secret of the Mansion, the first book in the classic Trixie Belden mystery series from the 1940s. As always, we do these discussions with the hope that you’ll check out these classics for yourself even if you didn’t have the chance to read them with us, but do be aware that there are spoilers in the chat below.
Wendy: I loved Trixie as a kid, so I was very eager to revisit these. I distinctly remember my grade-school self daydreaming about having an almost-twin and wanting desperately to be in a club with secret signals. Kim, I’d forgotten you aren’t a big mystery fan, so I appreciate your forbearance with the occasional one I slip into these readalongs!
Kim: I had literally never heard of Trixie Belden before it was suggested for our readalong! Wendy, no worries! I am not usually a huge mystery person but this book was so cute. It actually reminded me a lot of the Sweet Valley Twins special mystery edition stories I enjoyed as a kid. (Don’t judge me for liking those and never reading Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden, everyone. Pleeeeeeease.) This first volume, at least, doesn’t seem super “mystery-ish” anyway. It’s more like kids! adventures! crazy things happening! old timey! And I enjoy all of those things! It’s also adorable how $500,000 is an awesome, ungodly, set-for-life amount of money.
Layla: My mom is a big Trixie Belden fan so I was excited to read these for the first time and see what all the fuss was about. I knew virtually nothing about Trixie other than that she maybe had adventures? and solved mysteries? but not like Nancy Drew. And OH BOY, does Trixie have adventures.
Wendy: She certainly does pack a lot into one short book. Guys, the most important thing I want you to take away from this book is: DO NOT SUCK THE VENOM OUT OF SNAKE BITES. Oh my stars, Trixie Belden, you’ve been watching too many old westerns! As has your doctor. This is an idea that somehow gained popularity back in the day, but apparently it’s one of the worst things you can do if your little brother is bitten by a snake. I’m surprised she didn’t get sick, too.
Kim: It is almost absurd how many things happen! A military plane blowing out of the sky? Sure why not! Put it in there. But rest assured, Wendy. I will take proper care with snake bites! Unlike Trixie….
Layla: Same here. I know not to do that! And a good thing too, because I keep seeing copperheads on the trails here. My biggest takeaway from this book, if we’re going there, is DON’T LEAVE YOUR ANCESTRAL MUG OUT WHERE EVERYONE CAN SEE IT. (A plane will obviously crash nearby and then reporters will take pictures of your house and your ancestral mug will CATCH THE LIGHT.)
Wendy: I must apologize for misremembering, by the way–there is no strawberry pop in this book! That comes along later in the series. But there is other good old-fashioned summer food porn in the form of lemonade over cracked ice, a big chocolate layer cake, turkey with onion stuffing, baked Alaska, breakfast in bed with popovers with strawberry jam and bacon omelets….I have to stop.
Plus there’s talk of Honey’s bathing suit consisting of pale blue sharkskin shorts and matching halter, her silk negligee and matching slippers, and other wondrously glamorous things for an thirteen-year-old.
Kim: Haha I was wondering if I had missed it somehow! Wendy, I was promised strawberry pop and none appeared. I feel deprived and it is all your fault! :p
Wendy: I promise to let you know when it appears in the future books–I believe the two girls bike to Mr. Lytell’s store on a hot, sunny day and pick them out of a cooler. Funnily enough, we were in a Jack-in-the-Box last week View Spoiler » THE BUTTERY PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM BURGER advertised on the windows called my name « Hide Spoiler and I tried some strawberry pop there for the first time and thought of Trixie.
Layla: Baked Alaska always seemed like an impossibly cool dessert to me, and I was glad to see it appear here. View Spoiler » Speaking of delicious burgers, let me tell you HOW GOOD the portobello mushroom burger at Shake Shack is, Wendy. Spoiler alert, IT’S SO GOOD. « Hide Spoiler
Speaking of Mr. Lytell, I kept on expecting him to be a menace (sekrit evil!). But no! He’s just a gossipy old man.
Layla: How do you all feel about Trixie? I feel like I’m almost the wrong reader for these books now. I wish I’d read them when I was younger! Because at 30, I am super risk-adverse. I want her to stop being a spunky kid who has crazy adventures! and turn into someone who doesn’t ride horses she isn’t ready for and doesn’t go canoeing when she doesn’t know how to and doesn’t make a new friend and instantly convince her to break into a neighbor’s property. Trixie is in CONSTANT PERIL. I feel like her life is in danger almost as much as Brian’s in Hatchet, and he was stranded in the Canadian wilderness. In addition to this, man, I am just from a different time and place than Trixie Belden – the kind of unsupervised freedom that Trixie and even Honey, who is super sheltered, experience is way different from what I was allowed to do as a kid. That’s all to say, though, that I bet I would have been a bigger fan of Trixie when I was 12.
Wendy: I know what you mean. Upon rereading, these books do skew rather young for an adult reader. But it was because I was so very sheltered and protected as a child that I loved reading about these kids who were able to go anywhere they pleased! Who had adults in that were disciplinarians and provided guidance, but who were also so easy-going and understanding. You want to go off on a road trip to find a teenage boy with our new neighbor’s governess? Why sure, just be home to feed the chickens next weekend! I loved that her life was so different from mine, what with the farm, impromptu picnics, exploring abandoned houses, horseback riding, and so on. I bet these suffer a bit for their age to adult readers new to the series, though–they aren’t extra special enough to be that remarkable as mysteries, and though they feel a bit timeless despite being written in 1948 (aside from those exclamations), that also means there isn’t a distinct sense of period and place, either. Though I do love Crabapple Farm. I guess the mansion’s okay, too. ;)
One thing I had to adjust to–there’s a lot of dramatic shrieking and wailing throughout the book, hah. I mean, stuff is happening. But we’re not used to that sort of unbridled enthusiasm and drama in our books anymore.
Kim: I think I would have really, really enjoyed this book as a kid! I like Trixie, even with her weirdly endearing way of calling her mom “Moms.” Even though she can be so self-centered sometimes, she’s never a bad person and always has the best intentions. As a new adult reader, I was very much charmed by the almost lackadaisical whimsy. Like Wendy says, it’s fun and fascinating to follow along with the charmed rural adventures of these kids. It’s a “real world” experience so vastly different from my own blue collar suburban upbringing. Reading has always been about the freedom of that escapist enjoyment for me.
Layla: I’m going to start calling my parents “Moms” and “Pops” now. How do you think Trixie holds up in comparison to other girl-detectives (or child detectives) of the time, like Nancy Drew or the Boxcar Children?
Wendy: I liked Nancy Drew a lot–I think they were my first binge reads, as well as the first series I ever collected–but she is such a Mary Sue that she always seemed more adult and fantasy-like to me. I read Trixie after I read Nancy, and Trixie was so much more relatable for young Wendy. I, too, was prone to being flying off the handle and speaking before thinking, but I fancied myself a good judge of character as well.
Kim: I am somewhat ashamed to say I just don’t know. I only ever read one Nancy Drew book when I was a kid. No one look at me! Don’t witness my shame.
Wendy: After I read The Secret of the Mansion, I read the next two books, and I have to say, it isn’t until book three The Gatehouse Mystery that I think this series really gains its footing and the stories start feeling like proper mysteries. The kids start organizing themselves, and there’s less of the harum scarum antics as all the characters get introduced. These mysteries are still much more everyday sorts of mysteries vs the more exotic ones in other series, but that’s why I liked them–that, and the artlessness of Trixie’s ways, as well as everyone around her. There’s very little cynicism or ugliness in her orbit, so it feels very safe and cheerful, no matter what’s going on. These would be great to read with or hand to a kid who enjoys adventure, and doesn’t mind the lack of Wiis and cellphones.
I’ve never read Boxcar Children, but I liked The Hardy Boys and a few of the Bobbsey Twins, as well as the Elizabeth Honness and Mary C. Jane books. I read a lot of mysteries as a kid, since there wasn’t a lot of suitable fantasy available back then. But my absolute FAVORITE of the big series is The Three Investigators. Those mysteries were pretty sophisticated, and I dearly loved their headquarters hidden underneath Jupiter Jones’ junkyard, and their business cards, and their chalk question mark signals, and their gold-plated chauffered limousine.
Layla: Oh man! I have never read The Three Investigators series, but Jupiter Jones sounds like the kind of exclamatory remark that would fit into the world of these books perfectly. (“Jupiter Jones! That horse really threw me.” Or “Jupiter Jones! My brother’s been bitten by a copperhead!”) And oh man, I remember reading The Bobbsey Twins. I think you would like The Boxcar Children, Wendy. (Runaway children roughing it by playing house in a boxcar; discovering that their mean old grandpa really loves them. Like this, the first few books are about establishing a setting rather than jumping immediately into the mystery-solving.)
Wendy: I’ll try out Boxcar sometime! Layla, I can say with 100% certainty you would enjoy The Three Investigators. Their powers of deduction are far superior to all the other teen/preteen sleuths.
Layla: I know this is a mystery novel – and that the mystery here is where all of that money is – but Trixie’s constant focus on finding the lost fortune rather than … that old neighbor who was dying seemed weirdly callous to me. Again, I know, it’s a mystery! And she’s just a kid and she’s never had any reason to care for that cranky neighbor! but I felt like there was an awful lot of energy spent regretting that he’d never told anyone where he’d hidden his fortune and … not spent thinking about that dude who was dying.
Wendy: I agree, I did think it was rather unusual that she had so little sympathy for him–and he was relegated to a plot device. I don’t think it’s unusual that a kid would be more focused on the mystery, but it was was odd that, while she perhaps gradually understood him better, there wasn’t more of a teaching moment in regards to her dismissal/regard for him.
Layla: This isn’t to say that I think Trixie is a callous character, though? I totally laughed at the scene where both she and Honey stumble upon Jim in the old mansion and are like, “Hey there, strange boy with a gun! Let’s both adopt you! Come live with us!” D’aww.
Kim: Yes, the same thought occurred to me! I think it’s impressive how Julie Campbell made Trixie so likable when she can be rather narrow focused sometimes. Old Mr. Frayne was a real person, Trixie! I was also confused at first because I was expecting there to be some sort of supernatural mystery going on with the actual mansion. I blame Sweet Valley Twins. Then I realized this book is about kids kicking around on their charming rural residences, picnicking, and riding horses and I just went with that flow.
Wendy: Even though I’ve read these before many times, I rather expected that, too. I blame The Three Investigators for that!
Layla: I also thought the mansion was going to be haunted. Also, all the foreshadowing amused the hell out of me. “Say, it’s a hot summer and you wouldn’t want that mansion to burn down, would you?” “Nope, a fire in that mansion would be SUPER AWFUL and maybe put everyone in danger.” “Put out those matches, kids, wouldn’t want to START A FIRE.” And that kept happening! I LOL’d.
Kim: This completely went over my head because I was waiting for a Scooby Doo mystery to happen.
Layla: It’s just me, then, I guess. I found it kind of charming. (Also, I like feeling smart when I notice things and then they happen.)
Layla: Let’s talk about social class in the novel. How did you all feel about this? I felt like the novel was valorizing middle-class America through Trixie all the way. Honey reads to me like a representative of the wilting upper class – she’s pale, she’s seemingly frail – who only becomes healthy (per the novel’s definition of health) through her exposure to Trixie. Robust American girlhood FTW in these books?
Wendy: Oh, for sure. The wealthy parents who are never home and neglect poor frail Honey, too. Shades of The Secret Garden, coming back to haunt you! What exactly was wrong with her, they never say. I wish we knew more about why these themes were written into these books, I’d love to grill these authors to find out. I was a little annoyed at how easily Honey’s relationship with her mother seemed to be on the mend, and Trixie herself struggles with being patronizing towards Honey in this first book, even after she gets to know her better. I think that improves in future books, though.
Layla: With regards to Honey’s mom, YES. I was also a tiny bit bothered by the explanation for their distance. And also that it seems to be Honey’s responsibility to fix that relationship (rather than, you know, her mom’s)? Honey is a sheltered and sick little kid!
Kim: Wow, it is a total Secret Gardenization happening and I never even realized it. I mean, I’m glad Honey (also her name is Honey!!) found Trixie, since she clearly did her a world of good. I do wish it hadn’t been with such obvious messaging, though. I also would 100% love to read the YA adventures of Trixie and Honey where they totally fall in tender, secret love because that is just where my mind goes.
Wendy: Or does Honey eventually confess her love for Miss Trask when she comes of age? Surely there must be fan fiction for both scenarios.
Layla: I love both of your minds for thinking these things! And would love to read femslash Trixie Belden fanfic, is what I’m saying.
Layla: THE MOMENT WHERE JIM SHOOTS THAT DOG, YOU GUYS.
Wendy: Hah hah hah, I KNOW. What on earth was that? Whhhhy. And then they all just kind of move on! Was this just so Jim could lecture them about vaccinations? *moments later* Ah hah, behold my google-fu. Apparently there was a big rabies problem in the U.S. right after World War II, particularly with stray pets. There’s a PSA going on here.
Kim: Huh, how about that. The dog parts really freaked me out since I am terrified of dogs sometimes. I felt that fear right along with Honey. Also, not to get all last month’s readalong or anything, but the part in TKAM where the rabid dog is ambling through town also terrifies me. But anyway, Jim straight up shoots that dog and then it’s like “Well, nothing we could do!” and it wasn’t even rabid. Wut. So many things happen in this book and you just go along with it because you do!
Layla: Had the same thoughts and feelings! Was also like, “man, when did the Pasteur treatment really become a thing, because this seems tacked on for learning purposes.” Thank you for using your google-fu to solve this mystery for us, Wendy. You are a regular Trixie Belden. ;)
Wendy: *tosses hair casually*
Layla: I’m super curious about rabies in the early 20th century now and have been on the waiting list for Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus for weeeeeks.
Wendy: I love that about you. Oh man. There’s was a Trixie Belden sleepover camp last month in Pennsylvania! I would have LOVED this as a kid, though I never would’ve been allowed to go. Who am I kidding, I would love to do this now.
Kim: *marks calendar for 2016 Trixie Belden camp* 2016 TMG retreat, anyone??
Wendy: Ugggh, it goes on the list with Prince Edward Island, Laurapalooza, the Betsy-Tacy Deep Valley Homecomings, the Nancy Drew sleuthing weekends, Poohsticks in Ashdown Forest, the secret garden at Maytham Hall, Louisa May Alcott’s house, and countless other bookish adventures. I haz sad now.
Layla: Do all the things! Or you guys could come to the Dirty Dancing Festival in Lake Lure, NC, with me sometime. *hears crickets* *but why*
Wendy: 3.5 stars I am still nostalgically fond of this series for all the joy it brought me as a child, but the first couple of books aren’t as great as the rest. I enjoyed book three a lot, though! Um, we probably should have read that one. I may read a few more soon, I think brother Mart gets a bit of a romance soon with a pretty girl named Diane who joins their group.
Kim: 3.5 stars. It was so cute! I think I mostly enjoyed how adorably old fashioned it was. “Scared the dickens out of me!” “Golly!” I very much cared about all of the kids and I totally want to know how Jim ends up making out! We must unite him with his fortune.
Layla: 3.5 stars. It does what it wants to do (follow Trixie and her crazy adventures) and I appreciate that. I hope the next few books are as action packed as this one was. Also, what is important here? Uniting Jim with his dying uncle? NAH. Uniting Jim with his fortune? Now that’s more like it!
The Girl Next Door Sleuth
About the Series; the author confesses she never liked Nancy Drew
Fan fiction (it warms my heart to see people are still writing these!) can be found here and here and here
Trixie Mystery Fan Club, with precious scans of old official newsletters from the 70s
Trixie Belden discussion group on GoodReads (includes international readers)
You guys are gonna love this one! The Girl with the Silver Eyes holds a special place in my heart because it’s one of the first scifi books for kids I’d ever read–and the first time I’d ever heard of telekinesis! It’s also a very summery book (hey, sleepovers and swimming pools), and if you vaguely recognize the author’s name, it might be because you read her book Caroline, which was part of an old Sunfire historical romance series.
Title: The Girl with the Silver Eyes
Author: Willo Davis Roberts
Discussion Date: Friday, August 28th
Katie Welker is used to being alone. She would rather read a book than deal with other people. Other people don’t have silver eyes. Other people can’t make things happen just by thinking about them!
But these special powers make Katie unusual, and it’s hard to make friends when you’re unusual. Katie knows that she’s different but she’s never done anything to hurt anyone so why is everyone afraid of her? Maybe there are other kids out there who have the same silver eyes . . . and the same talents . . . and maybe they’ll be willing to help her.
I’m not sure how readily available this book is at the library, but the paperback is on Amazon right now for around $5, though unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like it’s available as an ebook. It’s worth seeking out for your shelves if you enjoy middle grade books with a bit of scifi, though!
If you’d like to get a head start on September’s book, we’ll be reading A Girl of the Limberlost.
How did you find your visit to Crabapple Farm? Did you notice that the last three Trixie book covers are actually fake covers, by the way? I had fun doing those! You can make your own Trixie covers at the Trixie Belden fansite.
How are you doing on your classics challenges, by the way? Just 5 more months to read and review 8 books. You can do it! We’ve added a handy tab at the top of the site where you can see all the previous books we’ve read, by the way, with clear guidelines on how to join if you’re coming to us for the first time.