Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher, by Wendelin Van Draanen

We adore Wendelin Van Draanen's books, but we understand why the director of the recent film adaptation of her novel Flipped re-set the plot in the 1950s—Ms. Van Draanen's uniformly G-rated dialogue frequently feels artificial and stilted in a modern setting. Thankfully, the thirteenth installment in her popular Sammy Keyes series features more modern language and behavior, which allowed us to stop making nasty Pleasantville cracks in our heads and focus on the story.

Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher opens with Sammy's disastrous first day of eighth grade. Her almost-but-not-quite boyfriend is ignoring her, her flighty mother is back in town, and her horrible new history teacher has received death threats—and Sammy, naturally, is one of the school's top suspects. Nobody likes Mr. Vince, but Sammy's quest to clear her name is complicated by the bridesmaid's duties (and the poofy lavender dress) she's been roped into for a friend's wedding.

The Sammy Keyes books have all been entertaining, but this installment featured the best combination of subject matter and writing style in recent memory. The villain was unexpected, the mystery steered clear of after-school-special-type issues like gang violence or teen pregnancy, and there were enough intriguing subplots to fuel a dozen sequels. There even seemed to be movement on the "Who is Sammy's father?" front, one of the series' ongoing questions.

All those delights, plus references to texting and cell phones and TV—not many of them, and Sammy herself remains in a technology-free bubble, but at least the characters are operating in a modern framework. Of course, the kids still occasionally say stuff like “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah'd away, sir!” when told to put something away (a reference to a creepily racist movie from 1946, mind you), but we still felt like everyone was making significant strides towards the 21st century.

[Review based on a publisher-provided copy.]
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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