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Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary by Wendell Van Draanen
February 27, 2018

I work with an NGO, Bookworm, whose mission is to encourage reading in children. Hence, a library is the foundation of all the work that they do. The only children’s books I have read are from the era of Enid Blyton, Amar Chitra Kathas, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. Perhaps some William, Billy Bunter and Archie comics as well. So to be faced with a library, a well stocked one, with just children’s books is daunting. I usually just pick up books randomly and read them. Those that are meant for younger children are quick reads and while the children probably enjoy them, they don’t leave much of a mark on me. I guess I have outgrown them!

I thought that the books for teenagers and tweenies would be more interesting. Here too there was a wide choice. I just stood there bewildered when a kind colleague, Flavia, suggested this book. She gave me a brief review and told me that if I enjoyed it, then I should read other books by the same author.

Being a mystery story, it was the perfect book for a train journey. I could shut out the chatter of the other passengers and the myriad mobile phone notification tones around me and immerse myself in this book. It starts slowly and I was wondering what Flavia saw in it, when it suddenly plunged into the story and the mystery.

Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary

The book is set in a small town in the USA – a country I have not visited yet. The descriptions in the book helped me to imagine the life there and despite what the popular media projects, life there seems much the same as anywhere else! It revolves around four friends – 3 of them are visiting the 4th for New Year’s eve at her house which is outside the town. They get into all kinds of adventures and fun. Sometimes I wondered if time operated slowly there since they seemed to do a lot of things in a very short time.

The host family had moved from Sweden and you get a glimpse into their culture. Though the use of the word ‘ja’ grated after sometime, I guess it is really used that much.

The emotions of the 4 girls, their interactions with “boys”, with regular adults and with understanding adults, took me back to my adolescence. I could empathise with the girls totally! The manufacture and use of illegal drugs – a problem associated with all teenagers – is well described. Without being preachy the author conveys the fact that one shouldn’t try some drugs even once. The innocence of the 4 girls comes out in their reaction to drug use at the party they inadvertently attend. Some themes are so universal that the locale doesn’t really make a difference. Perhaps the one thing I could not really get is the complexity of Sammy’s life – I haven’t seen anything similar in my context.

Thank you, Flavia for introducing me to this author. I will read more books by her as well as recommend her to others now.

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