The Mandie series is an historical mystery series that takes place in the American South at the turn of the 20th century, although I would say that some of the “mysteries” are really more adventure stories because there is more action than puzzle and the characters are carried along by events rather than figuring things out by analyzing clues before the answers are revealed in the natural course of events. It is important to read the books in order because they build on each other. Events and characters continue from one book to the next, and skipping around too much can cause you to lose the thread of the overarching story.
Amanda Shaw, called Mandie by her friends and family, is a young girl living in South Carolina. When the series begins, her father has just died, and the people she believes are her mother and sister are cruel to her, eventually hiring her out as a servant to another family and keeping the family house for themselves. However, Mandie, like her father, is also part Cherokee, and a family friend she calls Uncle Ned helps her to find her father’s brother, her real Uncle John.
Her Uncle John is a wealthy man and a good man who reveals family secrets that have been kept from Mandie for a long time: the woman Mandie formerly believed was her mother was actually her stepmother. Because of her family’s part-Native American lineage, Mandie’s white maternal grandparents broke up her parents’ marriage shortly before she was born. When Mandie was born, her grandparents also lied to her mother, telling her that she had died shortly after birth and sending her away to her father with the message that her mother didn’t want her and no longer loved him. Her father sadly believed it and remarried, never telling Mandie what he believed was the truth. Her father had also become estranged from his brother John, who had also loved Mandie’s mother. After Uncle John reveals to Mandie’s mother that Mandie is still alive, her mother is overjoyed and also angry at her own mother for lying to her all these years. She ends up marrying Mandie’s uncle so that the three of them become a family.
Over the course of the series, Mandie’s grandmother regrets the deception and separating Mandie’s parents, and they forgive her, although there is still some lingering awkwardness at times. The grandmother plays a role in Mandie’s education and also takes her on an extended trip to Europe along with one of Mandie’s friends.
Mandie also later has a half brother when her mother and uncle have a child together. At first, Mandie is angry and jealous about the baby, worrying that she will lose her place in the family that she has so longed for, but eventually, she becomes reconciled to him. Unfortunately, the baby also dies young.
There is also a subplot that goes through the books where her friend Joe, who is planning to become a lawyer someday, promises to help Mandie to get her father’s house back from her stepmother and stepsister if she will promise to marry him. When they are young, she agrees to this arrangement, but later, she thinks differently about it, especially when she finds another way to settle her father’s property. Joe is angry and hurt by her apparent rejection of him. However, although it is unknown by the end of the series whether Mandie will ever marry anyone at all, there are hints that she still has feelings for Joe.
Although I liked the Mandie books when I was a kid, I lost my taste for them later, and as an adult, I have a few complaints about them. Looking back on Mandie herself, I don’t find her as nice and sympathetic as I originally thought she was. As a character, she started to go downhill for me with all the drama about her baby brother and how she hated him at first. For a girl who started off by seeming to embody love, forgiveness, and other Christian virtues, she quickly became much more selfish. Later, she doesn’t even seem aware of how Joe, her oldest friend, was hurt by her apparent rejection. She doesn’t even speak to him honestly about her feelings about their “agreement” when she first decides that it isn’t necessary anymore.
The entire Mandie series has strong Christian themes, and Mandie often prays and talks about her faith in God. But, another of my complaints is that the tone of Mandie’s prayers sometimes struck me as a little forced and too formal, not quite like the natural, almost conversational tone when Margaret prays in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The two books are very different in setting and character, but the contrast in styles struck me. Mandie’s prayers often seem oddly stilted, even those at tense moments, and the religious discussions seem a little forced and self-conscious. I suspect that the religious aspects of the story were put in as a teaching opportunity, but the writing quality wasn’t quite good enough to blend them appropriately with the character and situation. But, that’s one person’s opinion. My complains are mostly about style, and the content itself isn’t bad.
Another thing that bothered me was that the author tried a little too hard at times to convey the accents and dialects of some of the characters, like the black servants and the Cherokees. I’m not sure whether it’s historically accurate for Uncle Ned, as Cherokee living in the Southern United States, to call Mandie “Papoose” as a term of endearment (I’ve studied history, but this isn’t one of my favorite locations and eras) or to talk about people going to “Happy Hunting Ground” when they die, but it feels a little cliche, and I suspect it’s based more on stereotype than real life. I understood the accent that they were trying to convey with the black servants, but the odd spellings and frequent exclamations of “lawsy mercy!” got to me after awhile. It’s not that I believe the accent or expressions are inaccurate, it’s more that I felt like they were overdone, and they sometimes distracted me from what people were really saying, although I suppose that they added to the color of the story.
I was more interested in other historical details, such as the lessons that Mandie learned at her boarding school, the things that they thought were important for young ladies at the turn of the century to know, the places Mandie traveled, and the contrasts between those living in the country where Mandie spent her earliest years and wealthier people living in the cities, the life that Mandie eventually becomes accustomed to.
The first two books were made into movies. The movies don’t follow the books completely, but they’re not bad. The grandmother is much nicer in the movies, although the altered reasons for breaking up her daughter’s marriage sound a little weak.
Books in the Series:
Mandie, following her father’s death, journeys to find the uncle she never knew and ends up in a desperate search for his missing will.
Mandie visits her Cherokee relations and discovers a hidden treasure.
While Mandie’s family tries to transport the gold discovered in the previous book in secret, a gang of bandits dressed as ghosts intercepts their train. How did they know where to find the gold, and can Mandie and her friends get it back?
Mandie is sent to boarding school to be educated as a young lady, but strange things happen there, and Mandie can’t seem to investigate without getting into trouble.
Mandie and the Trunk’s Secret (1985)
Mandie and the Medicine Man (1986)
Mandie and the Charleston Phantom (1986)
Mandie and the Abandoned Mine (1987)
Mandie and the Hidden Treasure (1987)
Mandie and the Mysterious Bells (1988)
Mandie and the Holiday Surprise (1988)
Mandie and the Washington Nightmare (1989)
Mandie and the Midnight Journey (1989)
Mandie and the Shipboard Mystery (1990)
Mandie and the Foreign Spies (1990)
Mandie and the Silent Catacombs (1990)
Mandie and the Singing Chalet (1991)
Mandie and the Jumping Juniper (1991)
Mandie and the Mysterious Fisherman (1992)
Mandie and the Windmill’s Message (1992)
Mandie and the Fiery Rescue (1993)
Mandie and the Angel’s Secret (1993)
Mandie and the Dangerous Imposters (1994)
Mandie and the Invisible Troublemaker (1994)
Mandie and Her Missing Kin (1995)
Mandie and the Schoolhouse’s Secret (1996)
Mandie and the Courtroom Battle (1996)
Mandie and Jonathan’s Predicament (1997)
Mandie and the Unwanted Gift (1997)
Mandie and the Long Goodbye (1998)
Mandie and the Buried Stranger (1999)
Mandie and the Seaside Rendezvous (1999)
Mandie and the Dark Alley (2000)
Mandie and the Tornado! (2001)
Mandie and the Quilt Mystery (2002)
Mandie and the New York Secret (2003)
Mandie and the Night Thief (2003)
Mandie and the Hidden Past (2003)
Mandie and the Missing Schoolmarm (2004)
Mandie and the Graduation Mystery (2004)