Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 12, 2012

Vanessa McCray: Kindred spirits of youth

By Vanessa McCray
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---- — As a girl, I loved Nancy Drew.

The old, hardcover editions in which she stylishly solves crimes were stored on the bottom shelves of my town's small library. I spent hours there — finger running across the spines, checking off stories I'd already read and mysteries I'd solved a chapter or more before the book's end.

I liked that my nickname "Vansie" rhymed with Nancy. It made me feel a kinship with the titian-haired girl full of gumption.

As a grown-up, I still love the savvy teen detective who drives a blue roadster and wears pumps.

It's why I fell completely for the short-lived but smart and funny TV series "Veronica Mars."

Veronica, played by actress Kristen Bell, is a high school student and her father is a P.I. Their relationship is much like the one Nancy shares with her father Carson Drew, one of many similarities between the two teen heroines. The mysteries Veronica solves, however, are decidedly more modern (which can mean more gruesome and disturbing).

The TV show lasted only three seasons. Its fan base was small but ardent, and by the third year much of what I liked most about it had begun to change for the worse.

Bell's performance, however, never disappointed. She captured perfectly Veronica's outsider status, something difficult to do believably by an actress as blonde and beautiful as Bell.

Since that role, Bell bounced around in other projects including the movies "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "When in Rome." I found both to be duds, despite her charms.

Now she's starring in the new film "Hit and Run," which opens this month. Bell, who grew up in Huntington Woods, appeared at the Traverse City Film Festival after a special screening of her new movie. She's just as winning in real life as she is on screen.

She told the festival crowd she most related to her teen sleuth role.

"Veronica Mars is closest to who I am," she said, adding the character shared her own sense of "snark."

Following the film screening, I walked out of Lars Hockstad Auditorium behind two teenage girls. They gushed, as teenage girls are inclined to do, about how great it was to see Bell. A perfect end to a wonderful day, they said.

It reminded me how excited I used to be to crack open a new Nancy Drew mystery each week and how I still love to escape through a great movie or book.

It also illustrates how important that first hero is and how she (if you're lucky) can define the kind of person you want to be.

Me? I always (still) want to be the woman with sharp instincts, a fantastic wardrobe and best friends like Bess and George.