6 September 2016

Trixie Belden and the Tiger Parents: Rebecca Lim reimagines Trixie Belden

Last week at the Melbourne Writers Festival, Stella Schools Ambassadors Leanne Hall and Rebecca Lim discussed diversity in YA at Stories for Everyone. The event covered whitewashing in Hollywood, the importance of recognising yourself in cultural representations, subverting cultural stereotypes, and their recommendations for readers who want to consciously seek out and read more diverse YA stories.

Following on from that event, and to give an idea of how ‘exotic’ some of her childhood reading seemed, Rebecca has re-imagined a passage from one of her favourite childhood books, Trixie Belden and the Red Trailer Mystery by Julie Campbell, with the main character Trixie as a Chinese migrant kid with traditional ‘tiger’ parents. 


trixie

There were 39 Trixie Belden ‘girl detective’ titles written from 1948 to 1986 and, tragically, I had 34 of them.

Trixie Belden is a teenage girl who lives at wholesome Crabapple Farm just outside Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson, in upstate New York, with her parents and three brothers. In the first book of the series, she meets filthy-rich Honey Wheeler of the Manor House and they become best friends. Someday, she and Honey hope to start the Belden-Wheeler Detective agency, and a series is born.

I’ve taken some passages from the opening of Trixie Belden and the Red Trailer Mystery, and then I’ve recast them with Trixie as a Chinese kid.

Original:

Trixie saw her father’s car turn into the driveway from Glen Road, and she raced out of the back door to stop him before he reached the garage.

‘Dad! Dad!’ she shouted. ‘We’re going on a trailer trip, Honey Wheeler and I, with her governess, Miss Trask, to try and find Jim Frayne, who has run away again.’

Mr Belden stopped the car by the steps leading to the back terrace. He leaned out of the window, smiling, but there was a puzzled frown on his face, too. ‘What on earth are you talking about, Trixie? Who is Jim Frayne?’

‘He’s old Mr Frayne’s great-nephew, Dad,’ she said. ‘And now that Mr Frayne is dead, Jim is his sole heir to a fortune of over half a million dollars. Isn’t that wonderful? The executor of the estate is looking for Jim. But Jim ran away early this morning. So now we’ve got to find him, Honey and I. That’s why we’re going on the trailer trip in the Wheeler’s Silver Swan, which is really the darlingest little house on wheels you ever saw.’

Mr Belden laughed. ‘It looks like it’s pretty much settled, and I can’t see any reason why I should object if Mr and Mrs Wheeler approve. You have my permission, Trixie. How long do you plan to be gone?’

‘Less than a week, Dad.’

Rebecca’s ‘re-imagined’ version:

Trixie saw her father’s car turn into the driveway from Glen Road, and she raced out of the back door to stop him before he reached the garage.

‘Dad! Dad!’ she shouted. ‘We’re going on a trailer trip, Honey Wheeler and I, with her governess, Miss Trask, to try and find Jim Frayne, who has run away again.’

Dr Boon stopped the car by the steps leading to the back terrace. He leaned out of the window, frowning heavily. ‘What on earth are you shouting about, Trixie? Who taught you to speak to your elders this way? Who is Jim Frayne? Who is Miss Trask? Do I know Honey Wheeler? Have I met her parents? What kind of people are these people?’

Trixie immediately lowered her tone. ‘They’re very nice, the Wheelers. But they’re not medical, Dad.’

‘Or Chinese,’ her Dad added thoughtfully.

‘But they’re really rich,’ Trixie added.

 ‘Wealth is not a guarantee of good character,’ Dr Boon snapped. ‘Charles Chuah was filthy rich – and look what happened to him.’

Trixie sighed, knowing what her dad’s answer would be, but hoping against hope anyway. She longed to leave the house before she turned 18. There was no point running a detective agency or being a detective if you couldn’t leave home outside daylight hours without your parents and three brothers surrounding you like a network of human shields.

‘Jim is old Mr Frayne’s great-nephew, Dad,’ Trixie explained patiently as her Dad continued to frown. ‘And now that Mr Frayne is dead, Jim is his sole heir to a fortune of over half a million dollars. Isn’t that wonderful?’

‘How could being dead be wonderful?’ Trixie’s Dad muttered.

Trixie ignored his sarcasm and pushed on. ‘The executor of the estate is looking for Jim. But Jim ran away early this morning. So now we’ve got to find him, Honey and I. That’s why we’re going on the trailer trip in the Wheeler’s Silver Swan, which is really the darlingest little house on wheels you ever saw.’

Darlingest is not a word,’ her Dad snapped. ‘We aren’t sending you to that expensive school of yours to learn colloquialisms of dubious value.’

 Dad,’ Trixie pleaded.

‘So let me get this straight, Trixie Wen Mei Boon. You want to chase a runaway rich white boy in the company of your rich white teenage friend and a strange white lady I haven’t even met, in your rich friend’s family’s caravan? Do you know how that sounds?

Trixie nodded, looking at the tops of her shoes. She felt hot and disappointed and awkward and guilty, just like she always did when she asked to leave the house in daylight hours without her family members. Dr Boon’s laugh lacked any real amusement. ‘I can’t believe you ambushed me on the way back from a hard day at the clinic to say all these ridiculous things to my face! You’re a banana. How long would you have planned to have been gone?’

‘Less than a week, Dad,’ Trixie whispered.

‘You could get kidnapped, bashed, sold into slavery or die in less than a week.’ Dr Boon snorted. ‘Now go inside and help your mother set the table for dinner. If I hear you talk about these so-called friends of yours, who lack parental guidance, ever again, I’m going to send you back to Singapore for the summer holidays.’


RebeccaLim-credit-EugeniaLimRebecca Lim is a writer, illustrator and lawyer based in Melbourne, and the author of 16 books for children and young adult readers that champion strong female protagonists and greater representations of diversity. Her most recent novels are The Astrologer’s Daughter (A Kirkus Best Book of 2015 and CBCA Notable Book for Older Readers) and Afterlight.

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