REVIEW: Sammy Keyes #1-3 by Wendelin Van Draanen

Sammy Keyes 1 Sammy Keyes 2 Sammy Keyes 3

014.-016. Sammy Keyes #1-3 by Wendelin van Draanen
Publication: first published 1998-1999, Paperback, ~600pp total
Series: Sammy Keyes #1-3 (duh)
Genre: MG Mystery

Read: Jan. 21-22, 2013 (rereads)
Source: Bought (ages ago)
Reading Challenge: none

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Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief: Look out Harriet the Spy! Here comes Sammy Keyes, a resourceful, brave, too-curious-for-her-own-good young sleuth who gets into trouble with her grandmother’s binoculars. Sammy was just killing time when she looked across the avenue with the binoculars. She certainly didn’t imagine that she would see a thief in the act of stealing something from one of the rooms at the Heavenly Hotel. The worst part is that the thief saw Sammy spying! And what did “smart” Sammy do then? She waved at the thief! Now Sammy is in loads of trouble. Can she solve the mystery of the hotel thief before the thief finds her and before the police discover that she has been living illegally with her grandmother? (Oh, don’t ask–it’s just another stressful situation in this young detective’s life.) Teens of all ages, shapes, and persuasions (especially reluctant readers) will adore Sammy and her crazy adventures. She is much more than a brilliant detective: Sammy Keyes, who is curious in all the right ways, is the sort of person you’d love to have as a friend. (from Goodreads)

This is one of my favorite middle grade mystery series, and I kinda think it doesn’t get talked about enough. I don’t know WHY, either, because they’re really good books. The writing: excellent. The characters: layered and complex and amazing. The mysteries: not super complicated, but still interesting and (y’know) mysterious.

What hit me the most during this reread is how much Sammy is like a tiny Veronica Mars. The book series came out before the TV show, and I am seriously wondering whether the writers of the show had read any of the Sammy Keyes books beforehand. Sammy’s sarcastic and clever and she doesn’t pull punches, and though the book series isn’t as dark and/or depressing as Veronica Mars sometimes got, it’s still got a lot of emotional maturity running throughout.

Like Veronica, Sammy’s an unusual protagonist for a kids’ mystery series. She’s a tomboy, she’s not afraid to physically defend herself1 but she prefers outwitting people to punching them, and she’s basically ten times smarter than anyone else around her.

The stories aren’t JUST about Sammy solving crimes and kicking butt, though. They have subplots that’re just as compelling as the mysteries are! And the characters are all layered and complex– even the bully gets some more depth in the third book (Sisters of Mercy).

Really, the writing is what makes these books superb. The characters give the books the sizzle that other MG mysteries don’t have. And the mysteries themselves are pretty darned good, too! If you haven’t read any of the Sammy Keyes books before, now’s the time to start.

4/5 birds for all of them
I REALLY like this series!

The series has gone through a few versions of cover art, but the ones in my post are my favorite two styles. Do you like them, too?


  1. in the first book she punches her bully in the nose. She’s totally get kicked out of school nowadays (zero tolerance policy, anyone?), but it was a very satisfying scene.

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