HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino
Publisher: Yearling, 1999
Related website: http://www.randomhouse.com/kids/vandraanen/sammykeyes/
Language level: 3 (no cursing but in addition to some common euphemisms and childish slang terms, the words “Lord” and “God” appear occasionally as interjections)
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 9-15
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Van Draanen, Wendelin. Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy (published in 1999 by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc., 201 E. 50th St., New York City, NY 10022; republished by Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). This book, which is the last of a group that I bought at a used book sale to complete a purchase of a couple of books that I wanted but had to find several others to make up “ten for a dollar,” is the third of a series; the first two are Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, which won the 1998 Edgar Award for Best Children’s Mystery, and Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man. Samantha (Sammy) Keyes is a seventh-grade girl at William Rose Junior High School at Santa Martina (probably in California). Her mother, the Lady Lana who has gone to Hollywood to become a movie star, has dumped her off to live with Grams whose senior apartment house doesn’t allow kids. Sammy doesn’t even know who her father is, but she does have his catcher’s mitt. In The Sisters of Mercy, Sammy has abused the school’s PA system and is serving twenty hours of detention by doing community service. Grams has worked it out for her to do it at St. Mary’s Church, helping Father Mayhew clean and paint his office while the Sisters of Mercy, a trio of singing nuns named Bernice, Abigail, and Clarice, are in town to do a fundraiser for the church.
However, Father Mayhew’s ivory cross is stolen, and Sammy is blamed at first because she was the only one in the room, so she is sent to work at the soup kitchen with Sisters Josephine and Mary Margaret and Brother Phil and also help the Sisters of Mercy with their fliers. Along the way we also learn about Sammy’s catching on her girls’ softball team, her problems at school with her arch-nemesis Heather Acosta, and her efforts to help a homeless girl named Holly Janquell who comes to the soup kitchen. Father Mayhew eventually decides that Sammy didn’t take the cross, but who stole it? Was it Josephine and Mary Margaret who are trying to finance a trip to Las Vegas? Was it Brother Phil who is mad at Father Mayhew for holding him back from becoming a priest? Was it Holly who might have sold it for money to survive? And when Sammy’s own catcher’s mitt is stolen, will she ever get it back? Sammy is a sympathetic character with all her disadvantages, even though she has this penchant for getting into trouble and comes across as a little too “street-smart.” I suppose the unknown father and irresponsible mother are included to make the story seem “relevant” to today’s kids, but many of us prefer stories with less dysfunctional families. However, Grams is always there to provide some stability in Sammy’s life.
There are many things to like about the book, including some important lessons learned and some tender moments experienced. However, there are some things which a few parents might not care for. These include childish slang terms for dog manure, urination, and the rear end; some common euphemisms; one child’s calling another “turdface;” and some instances of the words “Lord” and “God” used as interjections. Remember, this is junior high, but in a softball game, a girl at bat sticks her fanny out and all the boys whistle. In fact, much of the activity taking place at school will remind homeschooling families of why we have chosen to homeschool. And as you can imagine, there are a lot of references to Roman Catholic Church beliefs and practices. Later books in the series are Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf (2000); Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Mustache Mary (2001); Sammy Keyes and the Hollywood Mummy (2001); Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes (2002); Sammy Keyes and the Art of Deception (2003); Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen (2004); Sammy Keyes and the Dead Giveaway (2005); Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things (2007); Sammy Keyes and the Cold Hard Cash (2008); Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher (2010); and Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls (2011). Also, in 2006, Van Draanen released a book called Runaway, the story of the homeless girl Sammy befriends in Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy, which is told in a series of journal entries written by Holly that describes her life on the run. Girls’ Life said, “Move over, Nancy Drew—a new sleuth is on the scene.” Well, Sammy is not too bad, but Nancy, you can just stay where you are. I for one appreciate your old fashioned values.