Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
From Goodreads: 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.
In truth, I picked up Truly Devious because it doesn’t sound like my typical YA read. There were no dragons, no magic, not even much in the way of traditional high school drama. Instead, the book is about a girl who goes to a very prestigious school to solve a cold-case murder. It’s pretty refreshing actually, and although it is outside of my usual reading comfort zone, I found it a rather entertaining read.
The main character, Stevie, is really well written. Her voice jumps off the page throughout the novel, and you get a sense of her character and style very early on in the book. I liked her a lot, I thought she managed to be a strong, lovable and entertaining character without becoming a Mary-Sue or a poor imitation of Hermione Granger [trust me, there are a fair few of these out there]. Stevie makes quite a few mistakes throughout the plot of this book, but they always feel genuine. Thanks to the voice of her character, she seems believable, and I never at any point felt like her character was being forced into a plot point that didn’t make sense.
The romance is also an interesting read. I didn’t love it, exactly, but I did think it made a lot of sense and I was hoping to see more of it. Again, I liked that this seemed true to Stevie’s character and that I felt invested in her version of events. It seemed natural to me, and I appreciated how the romantic elements of the story didn’t take up too much space. I am sure there’s more of this to come in book two [which is already out in stores] but it occupied just enough of my time. Again, it didn’t feel like the romance was in there just to appease YA fans who like a dash of make-out scenes to go with their adventures. At the same time, I liked that it didn’t overshadow the rest of the story. It would have felt weird if Stevie spent most of her time sticking her tongue down the throat of a guy while there was a murderer for her to catch.
There’s a lot of humour in this book, and for the most part it worked well. I laughed at a lot of the lines, and again it felt naturally woven in. There were some very awkward moments, but these were often necessary to the plot, rather than contrived to get an uncomfortable laugh from readers.
I think, in order to enjoy Truly Devious entirely, you do have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief. Let’s be honest, Stevie might have been allowed to look through evidence of the cold-case she wants to try and solve at Ellingham, but when bad things start to happen all around her and present day crimes start occurring, there’s no way she’d be allowed to get as involved as she does. There’s also no way a school would go so quickly back to normal if a student got killed on campus. It felt a little silly at times, and there were some moments where I rolled my eyes at the impossibility of certain scenes, but it was still entertaining to read. I’m a bit mad at the ending too, if I’m being honest. It felt like there was a lot of build-up for little return. I will be picking up the next book in the series at some point [hopefully at Bookcon, so I can grab a signed copy] but the reason it was memorable for me was because it was a little different, rather than because it was executed flawlessly.
Overall then, I’m giving Truly Devious a 7.5/10. I liked Stevie’s voice and the humour, and I thought the book was different to a lot of YA I’ve seen recently, but it lacked a certain spark for me, and it took some time for me to get over how unrealistic some of the events were.
Has anyone else read this book already or plans to? What do you all think of it? Let me know in the comment section down below ❤