I actually received the second Sam & Friends Mystery, Lake Monster Mix-Up, for review, but couldn't figure out what was going on with the talking dog, so I dug around and borrowed the first from another library in our consortium.
In the first of these two graphic mysteries, Jennie is sad because her best friend, Sarah, has moved. A new couple has moved into Sarah's house and they don't even have any kids! Instead, they have a big, shaggy sheepdog, Samantha (Sam for short). Jennie and Sam quickly become friends, especially after Jennie discovers she has "the gift" and can hear Sam's thoughts. Sam eggs on Jennie and their new friend, Beth, to discover the mystery of the mysterious Mr. McIver and his creepy house.
In their second adventure, Sam, Beth, and Jennie are off to a boring weekend by the lake. But with Sam along, they quickly discover an old diary and a creepy mystery!
There's nothing particularly new about these stories; both use well-worn plots for children's mysteries; the creepy old hermit who hates people but likes animals and the mysterious lake monster complete with warning from a local. The text is all dialogue and the art is expected to convey all the action and emotions. This leaves quite a few loose ends in both stories; in the first, we never find out how Jennie feels about the complete absence of her old friend Sarah, where Beth came from, or why they weren't friends previously. In the second story, the local's mysterious warning and the clues in the diary peter out into nothing; even the characters wonder at the end what they meant and hint at a possible explanation in a sequel.
Verdict: So, these are boring, cliched stories, right? Nope. They're actually quite good and I enjoyed reading them. The art is black and white with crisp, clean lines and does an excellent job of filling in the story behind the dialogue. Sam provides a dash of humor and a unique hook for the story; Jennie's ability to hear Sam's thoughts is perfectly done and fits naturally into the story. These are excellent mysteries for readers ready for beginning chapters who aren't yet interested in a lot of character development and emotional exploration. These readers will be looking for a story that feels familiar with humor, fun characters, and an exciting plot and these graphic novels are the perfect match. Recommended for juvenile graphic novel collections that include younger readers in their audience.
ISBN: 978-1554534180; Published February 2009 by Kids Can Press; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library
Lake Monster Mix-Up
ISBN: 978-1553378228; Published August 2009 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates