For those who have never read a mystery novel before, picking one up the first time can be a big decision. There's always the risk that the mystery just won't be that mysterious, the secrets too obvious, or the plot without any twists.
This can be especially tricky when it comes to finding a good YA mystery. So step aside, Nancy Drew- Sammy Keyes is on the case!
A brilliant "gateway" series to the mystery genre is the "Sammy Keyes" series. Wendelin Van Draanen introduces the reader to spunky, outgoing, sly Sammy. The heroine lives with her grandmother in the (fictional) town of Santa Martina. Together with her best friend Marissa McKenze (and later Holly and Dot), she solves mysterious goings-on that involve heists from nuns, murder in Hollywood hotels, and the occasional middle school bully.
Since Sammy's only about eleven years old in the first few books of the series, it's easy for younger audiences to really empathize with her. Not only is Sammy snarky, she's fun and witty and makes for a great friend.
Van Draanen keeps the books paced extremely well by giving hints and clues to the mystery, all while keeping the mood entertaining and light. She includes delicious details that make characters memorable- like the McKenze dance Marissa does when she's nervous, or Gram's sticky oatmeal that can hold a spoon upright in the middle of a tornado.
There are more than just mysteries in the Sammy Keyes books. Many of the characters have a lot of family problems. Sammy doesn't know her father and her mother dropped her off at her grandmother's to pursue a career in acting. Marissa's parents are workaholics who can't spare a minute to be with their children. Holly was living in a refigerator box because of too many terrible foster home experiences. The only one with a whole family is Dot, and her big family is crammed into a house too small for them.
Despite all of the familial issues the characters have, they still don't let it overly negatively affect their lives. There are heavy moments, but the series is over all light and looks at a lot of things in a positive light.
The series is set to have 18 books in total, the newest one titled "Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise" not being released until September 2013.