The teen sleuth has a long history in children’s and young adult literature. During the twentieth century, popular children’s fiction became an increasingly profitable market. Large companies like the Stratemeyer Syndicate and its publishing partner Grosset and Dunlap produced masses of series fiction, finding especially great success with adventure and mystery series for children and teens. Though these titles were first published in the 1930s and ’40s, many of the characters remain well-known cultural figures. For example, Nancy Drew continues to appear in novels, video games, and even a feature film as recently as 2007. Kid and teen detectives from Encyclopedia Brown and the Red Blazer Girls to the Hardy Boys and Gallagher Girls continue to fly off the shelves in libraries and bookstores.
In middle school, I devoured every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on before moving on to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie and Martha Grimes. But I’ve always been looking for a new smart & savvy teen sleuth–and when Veronica Mars premiered during my final years of high school, I knew I’d found my girl. The character and the show appealed to me then as a young adult and a mystery reader–and it continues to appeal to me now, as a fan of the genre and young adult literature as a whole. Veronica Mars is simply a terrific example of storytelling for and about young adults–in addition to being a great mystery series.
The series can trace a connection to young adult literature back to its initial creation. Before he brought the teen sleuth back into popular culture, Rob Thomas wrote and published a young adult novel, Rats Saw God, a 1997 Best Books for Young Adults selection, recently re-released in a new edition. In an interview with The Austin Chronicle, Thomas explains that his creation of Rats Saw God–and later Veronica Mars–drew on his experiences during his first post-college job as a high school journalism teacher. So what qualities did Thomas’ writing include that made the show work so well in the world of young adult media?