Genre: Mystery, YA
Publication date: January 16th, 2018
by Katherine Tegen Books
Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”
Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.
True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.
The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three.
-A copy was provided by Katherine Tegen Books for review-
I somehow missed that Maureen Johnson had a new book coming out this month and only found out like a month or two ago. That shows you how I’ve been doing on keeping on top of all the new releases. Spoiler alert, its not good. I actually had not read any Maureen Johnson prior to reading Truly Devious but had heard so many good things about her other books. Plus I am absolute garbage for books that have boarding schools and this one even had a fun murder mystery involved. I am going to be a spoilsport though and start off by focusing on the bad because I really enjoyed the book and would rather end on a more positive note.
Ellingham academy sounds amazing but… I felt like it wasn’t conceptualized properly or at least to its full potential. For starters, it’s a free school open to all overachieving children and yet the majority of the population at this school seems rich as fuck. To the point where the MC feels uncomfortable? Something about that just didn’t sit well to me. If the author had made that decision because she was making commentary on socio-economic classes and privileges, that didn’t not come across in the text at all. And really, it just seems like really bad outreach on the school’s part if the majority of the students are largely from one socio-economic background.
Something about the academy in general doesn’t really seem inviting to me. We know its an exclusive academy but part of it just makes me feel bad about myself. As a reader, I couldn’t help but think I would never be good enough for this academy even though I know I love learning. Perhaps that’s more of a personal hang-up than a fault with the book.
When all was said and done though, I had such a good time with this book. I was a little iffy when we started because the MC seemed to have certain characteristics that I thought would just be written off as ‘quirks’ but Stevie really is such a great character and it helped that she had such a supportive cast of both friends & adults who were there for her and pushed her to be her best self.
A majority of the book is dominated by Stevie and her narrative, and I would have liked to have seen more of the secondary characters BUT that doesn’t mean that their appearances weren’t meaningful. Plus, given Stevie’s personality and the plotline, it seemed to make sense we didn’t get to spend as much time with the lovely secondary characters.
One character who I for sure wouldn’t have minded seeing more of was David. For those who enjoy good banter in romance, I would like to present you with this quote from the book:
“The fact is,” he said,“I liked you from the first moment I saw you, when you looked like you wanted to punch me in the face for just being alive.”
IF THAT DOESN’T HAVE YOU EXCITED, I have NO idea what would do the trick. None whatsoever. The romance in this book is super mellow but it hits all the right notes for my little romance-loving heart.
Now, if you’ve read about a 100 or so of my reviews, you’ve probably noticed that I usually spend a 100 years talking about the plot. I did find it slightly awkward that the book flipped back and forth between past and present but, the focus is on the present and I could live with the snippets of the past. The murder mystery set in the present in Truly Devious is so carefully crafted and ends on A note. It isn’t a cliff hanger per-se butttttttttt I would probably punch someone for a copy of the sequel right now so that’s where I am.
Basically, I am a FAN and truly enjoyed this cleverly written novel. If you love YA mysteries and a boarding school setting, this book might just be for you.