Series: Truly Devious, #1
Release Date: January 16th, 2018
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.
Truly Devious is a book that I was hesitant about for the majority of 2018. I had never read anything by Maureen Johnson before, but just the knowledge that she wrote the Little Blue Envelope series, which I perceived as being very cutesy and romantic, was enough to make me drag my heels on reading her interpretation of a true crime fanatic working on a real case. In the end, I’m glad it took me so long to read it so I could pick up the sequel as soon as I was finished.
To say this book took me by surprise is an understatement. The care with which Johnson crafts each character is astounding and the diversity represented was so refreshing. Stevie is a young murderino living with anxiety and panic attacks who dreams of becoming a detective and solving the elusive Ellingham Affair. Her struggles with anxiety, her strained relationship with her parents, her interest in a taboo subject that has often secluded her from her peers… She’s everything I could wish for in a protagonist. Janelle is unapologetically black, queer, and interested in inventing (a stereotypically masculine interest). She mentions a past girlfriend, yet her sexuality is never questioned or used as a plot point. Vi is nonbinary and always referred to using they/them pronouns without question, and their gender/sexuality is never used as a plot point. Not only that, Vi is of Asian descent (I think Korean but I’m not sure), and Janelle and Vi’s interracial relationship is literally the cutest.
When this novel was plugged as a mystery I was a little nervous. I have not read many YA mysteries and the one that immediately comes to mind is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart which I was not a fan of. That was not the case with this, Maureen Johnson must truly be a murderino and her depiction of characters interested in such taboo subjects is excellent.