Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy by Wendelin Van Draanen

sammy keyes and the sisters of mercyReading level: 6.3
Lexile: 850
Series: Sammy Keyes #3
Genre: Mystery
ELL-Friendly: Not particularly
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Sammy Keyes is working off some junior high detention time by helping out at St. Mary’s. Then Father Mayhew’s ivory cross disappears – and Sammy becomes the prime suspect. While she’s looking for the real culprit, Sammy is amazed to find gossip and petty jealousy bubbling beneath the church’s serene surface. This is just like junior high!

Caught in the middle of the mystery are a homeless girl in high-tops, a trio of singing nuns, two angry sisters, and one bumbling Brother. With a crazy cast like this, it’s not so easy to tell the saints from the sinners…

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book (technically audiobook), but I was pleasantly surprised. The Sammy Keyes series (judging from this one book) is certainly for the middle grades, but it is critical and engaging and suspenseful. I’ve been snatching up the rest of the series wherever I find them (i.e. library book sales…i.e. I may or may not have purchased over 50 books this weekend for about $0.17 per book at a sale).

Let’s focus on Sammy for a moment. She’s in 7th grade and is far from perfect. She’s sort of a trouble-maker in that she gets into trouble but doesn’t look for it, and the story begins with Sammy working off community service hours in lieu of school detention. Sammy is such a good sport, and not to mention funny. Part of my love of Sammy also comes from the wonderful narration done by Tara Sands who sounds like a younger Ellen Page.

There’s more to this story than Sammy solving a mystery. She befriends a homeless girl, lives with her grandmother instead of her parents, holds on dearly to the one artifact she has of her absent father, and faces some bullies with (mostly) grace and tactfulness.

Now, I was a little wary of this book initially because of the religion aspect, but there is nothing indoctrination-y about it. The nuns and pastor are all about God’s will and doing the right thing by God, but religion isn’t pressed, nor is it discussed in depth. Sammy herself isn’t particularly religious, so it is certainly not at the forefront.

Heather is a terrific bully. Man, she really got to me. However, Sammy transcends her rivalry to see that Heather’s biggest enemy isn’t Sammy…it’s herself. Deep, right? So even though Heather isn’t redeemed in this book, I have hope that we’ll come to the bottom of her nastiness later in the series.

This is book 3 of the Sammy Keyes series and is the first one I’ve read. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything, so you can probably pick up any book in the series in any order and not be left behind. That said, I’m guessing that the further we get into the series the more we learn about Sammy’s mom and dad and why she’s living with her grandmother.

Unfortunately, it’s not super ELL-friendly due to colloquialisms and vocabulary. There are at least two extensive softball scenes that include vocabulary like ball, strike, catcher, base, line drive, shortstop… There is also vocabulary specific to church, such as habit (the outfit nuns wear), brother, and sister, and then there’s the soup kitchen, which is not just a kitchen with soup as one might be lead to assume.

I’m confused about Scholastic’s leveling here. I agree that the book is at about a 6th grade reading level, but I don’t understand how the interest level can be 3rd grade. How can a book be at a 6th grade reading level but be for kids 3 years younger than that? Do 3rd graders have the necessary vocabulary to understand it fully without being lost? My recommendation, then, is high elementary, low middle school, non-ELL unless they’ve got excellent decoding skills, a translator, and/or a dictionary.

Sammy Keyes was really fun, but I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the series. I’m flat out making an assumption about the rest of the series being for the demographic listed above so I can move on to other books.

Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy is my twentieth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dawn Teresa
    Mar 24, 2014 @ 23:52:37

    You are missing out by not reading more Sammy! I have read 8 of the books. Sammy slowly ages of the course of the books, and she learns a lot about life and herself. I can’t imagine these being read by a 3rd grader. I would imagine they are written for middle grade kids. If you read more, though, I recommend taking them in order. While each stands alone, there will be asides and mentions of what happens in prior books. As I said….things progress, characters grow, and life marches forward. I hope you’ll change your mind, as Sammy is one of my favorite middle grade characters!


    • anxiouseducator
      Mar 25, 2014 @ 00:53:17

      You make a strong case! I’ll certainly keep my eyes peeled for the rest of the series. They’re slowly being added to my collection as I find them at library sales. I have two of them right now. I’ll definitely wait to read them all from the beginning if I find the time to do so. I have issues with starting books in the middle of series, so this was a rare occurrence for me, haha.

      I agree that Sammy Keyes is a high quality middle grade series. I was really impressed.


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