Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy

Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy

4.7 19
by Wendelin Van Draanen, Wendelin Van Draanen

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Books have always been a part of Wendelin Van Draanen’s life. Her mother taught her to read at an early age, and she has fond memories of story time with her father, when she and her brothers would cuddle up around him and listen to him read stories.

Growing up, Van Draanen was a tomboy who loved to be outside chasing down adventure. She did not decide


Books have always been a part of Wendelin Van Draanen’s life. Her mother taught her to read at an early age, and she has fond memories of story time with her father, when she and her brothers would cuddle up around him and listen to him read stories.

Growing up, Van Draanen was a tomboy who loved to be outside chasing down adventure. She did not decide that she wanted to be an author until she was an adult. When she tried her hand at writing a screenplay about a family tragedy, she found the process quite cathartic and from that experience, turned to writing novels for adults. She soon stumbled upon the joys of writing for children.

Feedback from her readers is Van Draanen’s greatest reward for writing. “One girl came up to me and told me I changed her life. It doesn’t get any better than that,” she said. Van Draanen hopes to leave her readers with a sense that they have the ability to steer their own destiny—that individuality is a strength, and that where there’s a will, there’s most certainly a way.

Wendelin Van Draanen is the winner of the 1999 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Children’s Mystery Book for Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief and lives with her husband and two sons in California.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Wendelin Van Draanen's creation of Sammy Keyes is a boon to young mystery fans. Sammy, 13, appeals to readers because she has all the qualities of a pre-teen. She is defiant, curious, high-minded and eager for a bit of danger. In the 1999 Edgar Allan Poe Award winner Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, Sammy spies a man through her binoculars combing through a purse in the hotel room across from her grandmother's apartment. When he sees her, she waves. Now he knows what she looks like and where she lives. Officer Borsch thinks her story is fabricated. It's up to Sammy to right all the wrongs. The newest book in the series is Sammy and the Sisters of Mercy in which Sammy befriends a homeless girl, meets a trio of singing nuns and discovers that even in the church there is gossip and petty jealousy bubbling beneath the church's surface. Just like junior high. Sammy keeps us turning the pages. 1999, Knopf, Ages 9 to 12, $15.00 and $4.99. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
Children's Literature - Jacki Vawter
Sammy Keyes is a likeable seventh grader with friends, a boy interest, and a grandmother as her only family. Sammy plays on her school's baseball team and dutifully fulfills her after-school detention of community service at the local Catholic church. It is there Sammy meets the Sisters of Mercy, three traveling nuns who have arrived in town to raise money for the church with entertaining performances. When valuable items are stolen from the church, Sammy is accused. Yet Sammy is resourceful and pursues the trails of possible culprits. Sammy receives help from her grandmother's friend who knows a great many things and, Sammy thinks, may have worked for the CIA. Sammy adds opening a safe to her list of problem-solving skills. In this third book of the Sammy Keyes mysteries, the climax deals with competing tensions as Sammy struggles in the playoff games, the Sisters of Mercy perform their final show, and Sammy takes control of the NunMobile.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Actress Tara Sands narrates this third adventure in the series by Wendelin Van Draanen (Knopf, 1999). This time Sammy is serving detention at St. Mary's church where she find herself a suspect when Fr. Mayhew's gold cross is stolen from the safe. Intertwined around this main event are equally riveting ones: Sammy's relentless curiosity about Holly, who she notices while working at the Homeless Shelter; the junior high school rivalry between Sammy and Heather that escalates during baseball season; and the flamboyant manners of the Sisters of Mercy who descend upon St. Mary's. Sands retains the voices, evoking a continuity of images for the more familiar characters. Listeners can almost touch the soft, gray hair of Grams, with her gentle and caring voice, while Officer Borsch's gruff and gravely one epitomizes the image of an overweight, street-smart cop. Adding to her repertoire of voices, Sands stretches her abilities with more subtlety. Meeting the homeless girl Holly, Sands is able to give her a feral-like quality, yet inflict a vulnerability that tugs on listeners' heartstrings. With the Sisters of Mercy, she offers just the right amount of lightness in tone, and her renditions of their singing will make listeners laugh out loud. Sands' voice personifies the Sammy Keyes character, with all its adolescent love, anger, and humor. Listeners who love baseball will delight in this novel, as the playoffs for the championship highlight this story. Mystery fans will enjoy this 1999 Edgar Award winner for Best Children's Mystery.-Tina Hudak, St. Bernard's School, Riverdale, MD Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
Praise for the Sammy Keyes series:
“If Kinsey Millhone ever hires a junior partner, Sammy Keyes will be the first candidate on the list. She’s feisty, fearless, and funny. A top-notch investigator!” —New York Times bestselling author Sue Grafton
“Sammy is smart-mouthed and hard-hitting . . . the sleuth delights from start to finish. Keep your binoculars trained on Sammy Keyes.” —Publishers Weekly
“The most winning junior detective ever in teen lit. (Take that, Nancy Drew!)” —Midwest Children’s Book Review

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sammy Keyes Series
Product dimensions:
5.77(w) x 8.58(h) x 0.81(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

She was on her way out of the church before I could get a very good look at her, but what I could see was that she was thin, had a brown ponytail, and was about my age. Now, kids don't usually come to church in the middle of the afternoon on a school day—they're too busy running around town trying to put together enough sins to make going to church on Sunday worthwhile. So her just being there was enough to make me do a double take, but it was her shoes that made me want to go up to her and say, "Hi!"

She was wearing high-tops. Like mine, only older. And I was about to chase after her, only just then Father Mayhew comes through the side door and says, "Samantha, I want to see you. Right now! In my office!" and I could tell from the way his voice was booming through the church that something was wrong.

Very wrong.


I followed him, all right. Straight back to his office. And when he sits down behind his desk and stares at me, I stand in front of it and ask, "What happened? What's wrong?"

He swivels in his chair for a minute while his fingers push back and forth against each other. Then he takes a deep breath and says, "As I'm sure you know, we religious take a vow of poverty. The Church provides us with food and shelter and a modest living allowance, but by and large, we own very little. Very few things that I have do I consider to be mine. Do you understand this, Samantha?"

This priest sitting behind the desk may have looked like Father Mayhew, but he sure didn't sound like him. I just gulped and said, "Yes, sir."

He takes another deep breath like he's counting to ten. "One of my few earthly treasures is my papalcross." He's quiet for a long time, pushing his fingers up and down. Then he says, "It was given to me by my father when I was ordained. He has since passed on, and it can never be replaced." He looks straight at me. "Samantha, I implore you—give it back. There'll be no repercussions—just, please, return it."

Now I think I know what cross he's talking about. Whenever Father Mayhew gives a service, he wears this ivory cross on a knotted rope of ivory beads. It's not a plain cross or one with Jesus on it like you're used to seeing. It's got one big cross bar with two smaller ones above it—like the top of a powerline pole. So I ask, "Your ivory cross?"

His fingers freeze. "Please, lass, give it back."

"But Father Mayhew, I didn't steal your cross!"

"Samantha, please. It's very important to me."

"I don't have it!"


"Really, I don't!"

He shoots out of his chair. "Well if you insist on denying it, then perhaps it'd be best if you spent your time with Sister Josephine over at the soup kitchen." He comes from behind his desk, and you can tell from the way he's moving that he wants me out of there.

I say, "But..." but he refuses to listen, and the next thing you know I've been thrown out of church.

I stand on the walkway, staring at St. Mary's front door, not quite believing what's just happened. Why did he think I'd stolen his cross? Just because I'd broken some rules at school didn't make me a thief! But I could tell that this new Father Mayhew was not someone to argue with, so after a few minutes of standing around fuming, I headed over to the soup kitchen.

The soup kitchen doesn't serve soup. Not that I've ever seen, anyway. It mostly serves sandwiches or just pre-packaged food. I'd never actually been inside the Soup Kitchen, but I'd watched people waiting for it to open or eating on the benches outside.

Some strange people hang out at the soup kitchen. It's next to the Salvation Army, and right between them is this grassy area where people spend the day passing cigarettes around, checking out bandannas on other guys' dogs, or rocking strollers back and forth, trying to keep their babies from crying.

And whenever I walk by, I wonder how the people got there. Do they have homes? Do they sleep in the bushes? What do they do when it rains? Grams calls them bums and usually I do, too, and the ones who hang out in the grass all day asking you for money when you walk by, well, I think they are.

But then I'll see a really old man standing in line and wonder how he wound up at the soup kitchen. Did he start out sharing cigarettes and checking out bandannas? Or did he go out for a walk one day and forget how to get home.

I've thought about following them to see where they go at night, but according to Marissa and Dot, half of them really do have homes and the other half camp out under the Stowell Road overpass.

Anyhow, there I am, knocking on the front door of the soup kitchen while all the bums in town are checking me out. Finally, someone opens the door and says, "We're not open for another half-hour."

Well, it's Brother Phil, and if you knew Brother Phil, you'd know why I had to stick my foot in the door. Phil is kind of, well, dense. He's got a round face and a round belly, and a very round head. A very dense round head. Normally, you don't think about a person's head, but with Brother Phil you can't help it. He's mostly bald, only I don't think he's quite admitted that to himself yet. He plasters what hair he has left from one side of his head clear over the top to the other side. And since Brother Phil's got such a round head, no matter what he does, there's always a patch where his scalp shines through like a flashlight in a bat cave.Brother Phil's not the kind of guy you try to explain things to. He doesn't listen real well. He has his own ideas about things, and getting him to change his mind is like opening a gate that's swelled shut in the rain.

So before Brother Phil can slam the door in my face, I stick my high-top in and say, "Father Mayhew sent me over."

He says, "Fine, but we won't be serving for another half-hour," while he's pushing on the door trying to figure out why it won't close.

"Brother Phil, he sent me over to help, not to eat!"

He just stares at me. Then one of his eyes twitches a few times and he asks, "You're here to help?"

I let myself in. "That's right."

Sitting at a table in the kitchen are Sister Josephine and Sister Mary Margaret, and they're hovering over a map. Sister Josephine looks up and then scrambles out of her chair. "What are you doing here?" she asks, like I've caught her having a swig of holy water.

Before I can answer, she turns to Brother Phil and says, "What's going on?"

"Mayhew sent her over. To help, I guess."

I just stand there like an idiot, wishing I was back scrubbing purple glass, when Sister Mary Margaret stands up and says, "Well that's wonderful! We can always use an extra hand." She points to the map and says, "Sister and I were just planning our vacation—"
Brother Phil cuts in, saying, "I don't know why you have to plan it out. You go to Las Vegas every year. And you take the bus!"

Sister Josephine picks up her cane, kind of cocking it in case Brother Phil gets even farther out of line. "Last year, if you recall, the bus broke down and we had to wait five hours in the middle of the desert for someone to repair it. If we'd had a map, maybe we could've done something about it."

Brother Phil shakes his head. "Like what?"

Sister Mary Margaret shrugs and says, "Who knows, Philip...maybe hitchhike."

So I'm trying to picture the two of them on the side of the road with their thumbs out, when Mary Margaret folds the map up real neat and says, "Regardless, it's our little adventure and we're enjoying it." She turns to me. "What's your name again, dear?"

"Sammy. Sammy Keyes."

She smiles. "That's right. You come Sundays with your grandmother, don't you?"

I give her a little nod.

"Not every Sunday, though."

Well, that's a little unnerving, let me tell you. I mean lots of people go to St. Mary's on Sundays. How could she possibly notice if I'm not there?

Her eyes give me a quick reprimand. Then she smiles and says, "So, have you ever worked in a relief kitchen before?"

"No, Sister."

"It's not hard. You'll find most of the people are very nice. If any of them give you a lick of trouble, just point them out to one of us and we'll take care of it." She checks her watch and says, "It looks like we'd better set up. It's almost time."So we wash up, and then Brother Phil starts hauling trays of sandwiches out of the refrigerator while the Sisters bring out cartons of punch and milk. When the food's all set up, Mary Margaret says, "Each person gets one sandwich, two cookies, a bag of chips, and something to drink. If they have children, insist on the milk."

Sister Josephine says, "And if they ask for more, tell them no. We're not here to feed their dogs, no matter what some of them think!" Then she says to Phil, "Let 'em in," and disappears.

The way the Soup Kitchen is set up to serve people is, there's a ramp to the door where they come in, there's a table where they pick up their plate of food, and there's a door with an EXIT sign where they go out.

When Brother Phil opens the door, the first person to come in is a woman pushing a baby in a stroller. I say, "Hi," to her and she mumbles, "Bueno." I put together a plate for her with an extra milk and say, "There you go," but she doesn't even look at me. She just takes the food and leaves.

I tried being friendly to the next couple of people who came in, but it seemed to make them uncomfortable, so I just started handing out food, asking, "Punch or milk?" and trying to keep the line moving. And before you know it I'm on autopilot, thinking about Father Mayhew and his cross, and what I can do to convince him that I didn't steal it.

Then this man with tattoos shows up. He's got blue snakes wrapping up his arms and clear around his neck, and he points to the sandwiches and says, "Let me have another."

I say, "Sorry. We're only supposed to give out one apiece," so he reaches over and takes one, then shows me all his rotten teeth like, Oh yeah? Well come and get it!

Phil yells, "Hey! Put it back!" but the guy just snarls, then spits on the floor and leaves.

That wound Brother Phil up, all right. I thought he was going to spring his little round body right over the food table and chase after him, but what he did instead was sputter around in circles for a minute, then holler, "Move back, move back! Quit crowding!" to the people coming in the door.

After that, I quit brooding about Father Mayhew and started paying more attention to what I was doing. And when this man comes through pushing a stroller with a blanket draped over it and whispers, "I'd like some food for my kid, too," something about it didn't seem quite right. Before I could stop myself, I'd reached over and pulled the blanket back. And what do I see? A jacket stuffed with clothes.

He yanks the blanket back and says, "Keep your hands off my stuff, you nosy brat!" Then he tries to cover up by saying, "I got a kid—he's just asleep outside."

I say, "Right," and try to help the next person. But he doesn't leave. He stands there and says, "Hand it over!"

Out of nowhere pops Sister Mary Margaret. She says, "Young man, the police station is two blocks away. If I hear another peep out of you, I'm going to pick up the phone and call. I suggest you take your sandwich and enjoy what's left of the sunshine."

He looks at her like a puppy that's nipped his own tail, and then hurries out the door.

So there I am, passing out food, thinking about what's just happened, when all of a sudden I'm standing face to face with this girl. She's my size and her hair's back in a ponytail, just like mine, and she's not there with her mom or dad—she's all by herself. And I'm standing there, holding out a plate to her, not quite wanting to let go of it when it hits me that she's the girl I saw at St. Mary's.

I look under the table and, sure enough, she's wearing high-tops. I smile at her and say, "Hi!" but all she does is look at me kind of suspiciously. Then she takes the food and leaves.

Now you have to understand—it's not every day I say hi to someone like I want to be friends with them. I mean, I've got Marissa and Dot, and other than that I don't need any friends. People I know with lots of friends don't seem to have any real friends. It's like doubling the recipe when you've only got half the sugar—you wind up with a lot of cupcakes, but they're not very sweet.

But there I was, being friendly to a perfect stranger, wishing she'd come back so I could talk to her and find out some important stuff—like her name and where she gets her high-tops.

And what in the world she's doing, getting her dinner at the soup kitchen.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Wendelin Van Draanen was a classroom teacher for many years before becoming a full-time writer. The books in the Sammy Keyes mystery series have been embraced by critics and readers alike, with Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief receiving the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best children’s mystery. Wendelin is also the author of many award-winning novels, including Flipped, The Running Dream, Runaway, Confessions of a Serial Kisser, Swear to Howdy, and The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones. You can find her online at and @WendelinVanD, and you can follow Sammy Keyes on Facebook.

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4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really good. The next one is sammy keys and the curse of moustache mary
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book ever!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book! I think that it is incredible that sammy actually got that many hours of detention or after school service or whatever! The next book is actually sammy keyes and the runaway elf and then the curse of mustache mary which is my fav;)! I liked how sammy made friends with holly and found her a home. That scene made my eyes tear up! And also if you want to see hollys life and how she came to santa martina you can get the book runaway also by van draanen. That story was also sad and l absolutely loved the ending of it! I wish l had awesome friends like marissa holly and dot just like sammy does.!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a great book, really. But the anomymous people who write reviews really spoil it. I've read the real book and it is highly recommended if you like humour and mystery. Sammy Keyes books always have the perfect blend of humour and mystery. To be honest, this is the best book in the series. Van Draanen can write some amazing books, like Swear to Howdy and the Sammy Keyes series. If you want to know more about this book but you dont want the story and mystery to be spoiled, just read the editorial reviews. They are more informative and serious than most customer reviews. Many customers just write the whole book in their words, while others just write two words lik "great book" and are done with the review. Another thing they do is say something that is not even related to the book. Please refrain from doing these things when writing a review, as it is very annoying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is a amazing book,it give me the chils! This is my fav. Book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was so awesome! I have been reading it for a few days and finished it yesterday. this is one of the best books i have read all year.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that this Sammy Keyes book is a great mystery for children because it is thrilling yet keeps you wondering. Great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buy it
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Do you llike mysteries? Then maybe the Sammy Keyes series is for you. Sammy Keyes lives with her grandma. Instead of serving a detention they let her serve it at St.Mary's doing work. Father Mayhew's ivory cross is stolen. Father Mayhew thinks Sammy was the one who stole the cross because she was the only one at St. Mary's ajt the time. Later Sammy met some nuns at St. Mary's. The nuns were traveling nuns they would travel all over the country. After awhile things keep going missing. Who did it? Where did the cross go? If you want to find out what happens you have to read the book. I think this book is fantastic-it will keep you on the edge of your seat! I reccomend it to children, teens, and some adults that like mystery.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is such a good book. Sammy's at it again in this thrilling mystery. She gets herself into trouble with some not so saintly nuns. Little does she know the 'Sisters Of Mercy' nuns hold a deep and dark secret.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The systers of mersy have a bunch ox stuf in their moble home
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book but needs more detail at the end
Guest More than 1 year ago
So Sammy works off a junior high detention at St. Mary's. She helps out at the kitchen soup and around the church cleaning. Father Mayhew's ivory cross disappears and Sammy is the number one suspect. But Sammy swears it wasn't her she said she would never take the most valuable thing of Father Mayhew. While she was painting his office the room where the cross was was open. Then the goblets disappear. Who would do such a thing and take them. Caught in the middle of the story are a homless girl in high-tops, a trio of singing nuns, known as the sisters of mercy, two angry and jealous sisters, and one bumbling brother. Well with such a thing like this its hard to tell apart the sinners from the saints. Sammy goes looking around for the goblets and the cross but its no where to be found. Sammy thinks it was the homless girl in high-tops so she follows her into her big square box, where she lives. Nothing was found so who took it. On her way home she stops by bumbling brothers house. She's quietly looking around to see what she finds but there is no sign of the cross nor the goblets. So now only the Sisters of Mercy and the two anry sisters are left as suspects. Who could it be? Well don't wait up, read this book and find out who took the ivory cross and goblets. This book was an interesting, funny, and sad story all at the same time. what i liked about this book was its way of telling us how mysteious the things that go on are. I like mystery books they're breathe taking. My favorite characters are The Sisters of Mercy. They are funny and outgoing. They are not like the usual nuns you see. They like to so shopping and sing. I think thats so cool. But in the begining of the story i don't like how Father Mayhew blame's Sammy for taking his ivory cross and goblets. Sammy is an inisnt and caring person she wouldn't do such a thing. I recomend this book if you like mysteries. The mystery is who took the croos and goblets. i really like this book also because Sammy tries to help out the homeless girl and she tries to discover the mystery of who had taken Father Mayhew's cross even though she had nothing to do.
Guest More than 1 year ago