Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things, by Wendelin Van Draanen

Wendelin Van Draanen’s Sammy Keyes series is one of our favorites. It’s smart, straightforward, and it hasn’t put itself under pressure by announcing a finite number of installments, so plot lines develop at a natural pace. Van Draanen's eponymous heroine is a genuinely likable character, and her adventures consist of a nicely judged blend of mystery, romance, and hair-raising adventure.

The most recent book in Van Draanen’s series, Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things, opens during the summer before eighth grade. Sammy lives with her grandmother, and money is tight, so her summer plans consist mostly of riding around on her skateboard and waiting for her friends to get back from vacation. Bored and lonely, Sammy runs into Casey Acosta (her would-be love interest), who tries to sell her on the joys of hiking. Sammy’s not convinced—she’s a tough girl, but scorpions? Snakes? No bathrooms? Still, when another classmate invites her to go on a Girl Scout camping trip to view the endangered condor, she decides that it might be worth trying. It isn’t long before Sammy realizes that camping is definitely not her favorite activity... but there is something weird going on at the condor viewing station, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.

Van Draanen has always kept Sammy’s behavior absolutely G-rated, but she doesn’t shy away from the more grown-up realities of her characters’ world. Sammy is a thirteen-year-old kid who limits bad language to exclamations like “Leapin' Lizards!”, but the book features a scene in which her grandmother almost kicks her out, fearing (groundlessly) that she might have become sexually active. Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things also drops several more hints about Sammy’s troubled relationship with her flighty, selfish mother, and offhandedly refers to her absentee father. It's a little tough to buy such a streetwise kid maintaining totally squeaky-clean behavior, but we promise that Van Draanen’s series is worth the effort of suspending one’s disbelief.

If you’re looking for some truly girl-friendly books to give to a young reader (or pick up for yourself), the Sammy Keyes series is an excellent choice. It’s surprisingly rare to read a kids' book about a normal girl, albeit one who’s a bit brighter and more hardworking than average. Readers are going finish these books feeling energized, entertained, and motivated to go out there and kick some butt.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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