What my best friend never told me

…he had doubts, like me, about who he was.

Korean mother and child
Nena (Ho Mi Hyung) and her Korean mother,  Ho Soon Ja, 1956

After I asked readers to share stories about books that have made a difference in their lives, I was thrilled to hear from my best friend from childhood.

Nena Adams Benhoff and I go way back.  We shared Nancy Drew books. We played piano duets and went to Brownie meetings together. We were in Mrs. Ryan’s kindergarten class of 1960 at Broadway Elementary School. Nena’s first job was in my family’s flower shop, where my father taught her floral design.

Sometimes I was a little jealous of Nena, because she was something of a celebrity in our town.

But even best friends don’t tell each other everything, and I didn’t know the whole story.

So when she sent this guest post, I was amazed. I’m still getting to know my best friend after all these years.

Here is Nena’s story.

I was born in South Korea and adopted by an American family when I was 15 months old. In my new hometown, it was a newsworthy occasion because foreign country adoptions were unheard of in the 1950s. Articles were printed in the Cleveland Press, The Plain Dealer, and the local papers. My life story was known to just about everyone in our town.

When I started school, my teachers always spoke about how wonderful it was that I, a poor little Korean orphan, was given a chance to grow up in the United States. I was expected to bring in my Korean clothes to share with the class and talk about Korea. Now, I had no memories of Korea, I wasn’t even walking when I arrived, so I really didn’t have anything to share. Only half Korean, I thought I looked more Italian than Asian. Everyone thought I should think and act Korean, when I looked and thought, “American.”

I was confused about myself and my place in the world.

When I was about thirteen, a librarian recommended a book to read.

That book was The New Year by Pearl S. Buck, the story of a mixed race boy, half Korean and half Caucasian, who was brought to the United States by his birth father’s wife at the age of ten. While his story was not at all like mine, he had doubts, like me, about who he was. In Korea he was considered American, while in the United States he was considered Korean. Pearl Buck explained about mixed race children being like “bridge organisms,” not wholly of one world or another, but joining the best attributes of both.

After reading The New Year, I must admit I was thinking quite highly of myself, as being better than anyone!

But after a short time, I came back to reality, and started the journey of just becoming myself.

Nena Adams Benhoff has been a floral designer for over forty years. She lives in Oklahoma City.

The New Year is out of print but available from used booksellers and libraries.

About Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938 and the Pulitzer Prize, among other high honors and awards. She published dozens of novels, as well as short stories, biographies, and other nonfiction.

Visit Book Tips – Pearl S. Buck on the official site of the Nobel Prize to see comments by readers of Pearl Buck’s books, and to comment on your favorite books by Nobel Prize winners.

Share your book stories

If you’d like to share a story about a book that is special to you, send an email to valoriegracehallinan[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line: My Book Story. Please include a post of about 500 words or less in the body of the email or an idea/book you’re interested in writing about.

Intrepid girl detectives and student nurses: Nancy Drew & the gang

When I asked about books that made a strong impression when you were growing up, many of you mentioned the Nancy Drew Mystery Series.

The Hidden StaircaseI was a Nancy Drew reader, too. I bought the first dozen or so books one by one and tried to read them in order, but soon gave up because my reading habits outpaced my cash flow. So I borrowed them from the library and a friend and fellow Nancy Drew fan.

That same friend tells me she is now collecting Nancy Drew dust jacket covers, which are quite valuable.

Another friend and blog reader told me about a slew of girl detective series I’d never heard of: Trixie Belden, Kay Tracey, Judy Bolton, Melody Lane, and Connie Blair, among others. Vicki Barr, airline stewardess and amateur detective, investigated all manner of criminal activity in her travels.

I must have encountered some of these heroines on library shelves, but I remained loyal to Nancy.

Browsing around the Internet for more girl heroines, I came across the nurses. Remember them? Cherry Ames and Sue Barton? Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. Sue Barton, Senior Nurse. Visiting Nurse. Rural Nurse. Neighborhood Nurse. Superintendent of Nurses. I remember months of intensely reading the Sue Barton books during my wanting-to-be-a-nurse phase, after I’d ratcheted down from my original ambition to be a brain surgeon. Sue Barton

Feminist and literary scholars have written about Nancy Drew and other heroines as developing and changing female prototypes. According to some, Nancy evolved from a feisty, independent, fearless young woman in the early years of the series, around 1930, to a more conventional, passive one in the 1960s, when she was often portrayed as a potential victim of harm. Her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, began to play a more prominent role, whereas in earlier books Nancy usually worked alone or with her female chums, George and Bess.

The way I remember her, Nancy could do anything, perfectly. She was strong,  supremely confident, and competent. At sixteen, she had her own car (a blue roadster). Her father let her go anywhere and do just about anything.

Laura Bush, Barbara Walters, Beverly Sills, three female Supreme Court justices, and other prominent female figures have said Nancy Drew was a role model.

What impressed me most, I think, was Nancy’s freedom and independence as she made her way out in the world.

I took for granted I would have the same sort of life someday.


Nancy Drew is alive and well. The NancyDrewSlueth.com unofficial website has everything  you’d want to know about the series. There is even an annual Nancy Drew convention.

Did you have a favorite series? Tell us about it.


Best Short Animated Film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

If you haven’t seen it yet, take fifteen minutes to watch this year’s Oscar winner for best animated short.

It’s an affecting tribute to books and the curative powers of story, with a beautiful musical score.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is available as an app from iTunes.