Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson

Title: Truly Devious

Author: Maureen Johnson

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release date: January 16th, 2018

Genre: mystery, teen fiction

Page count: 416

My rating: 3.5

Goodreads synopsis: Author Maureen Johnson weaves a tale of murder and mystery in the first book of a new series.

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.

My thoughts: This is the first time (I think) that I have given a rating with a half star. For me this was better than a 3 but not quite to 4. Allow me to explain.

I liked this book. It was fun. I finished it in two evenings. BUT by the end of the book, I was left feeling unsatisfied. Nothing about the plot was solved or concluded. Now I KNOW this is the first book of a new series and there is obviously more to come. I expected it to end with a cliff hanger. I expected to still have some mysteries left to solve. What I didn’t expect was to have more questions than answers by the end of the book because literally NOTHING was answered. At least not definitively. So that bugged me the most.

One thing I did like was that the chapters alternated between the current timeline and mystery and the disappearance case the main character is trying to solve from the 30s timeline. BUT again, I wish there was more of the timeline from the 30s and more information about the orginal case. It started out alternating every other chapter but quickly phased out of that to no real pattern at all, just sporadic. I wish Maureen Johnson would have kept it switching every other. I found that format the most interesting and unique.

I love the main character Stevie. She has anxiety (like me!) so I found her super relatable. Especially the scenes describing panic attacks. I like that recently we are seeing more books with main characters having disorders like anxiety and depression and the authors aren’t making that ailment a necessarily negative thing. I feel like it is starting an important conversation about disorders like anxiety and depression that is long overdue. I wish in high school I could have read about main characters having anxiety and seeing it be a completely normal thing because I thought I was the only one who felt that way.

The rest of the characters seemed cliche. You have the introverted, antisocial, awkward writer, the vain, arrogant, celebrity YouTube star, mysterious boy with a shady, secretive life who is the central love interest, etc etc. I did like Stevie’s friend Janelle who was a girl who builds machines and is a lesbian but also wears girly dresses and such. She was fun. I just wish there was more of her. And her love interest, Vi, I think may have been trans??? But I wish their identity had been made more clear because it was never clearly stated but more or less hinted at very subtly.

Also the baddie, Truly Devious! Gah! Probably the most frustrating character because I still cannot even venture a guess at who it is and its not because the mystery was so amazing and it could be anybody but because of a total lack of information and unanswered questions! I feel like a good mystery novel, especially a first in a series, reveals some of the answers and gives you enough clues for you to come up with your own theories as to who the baddie is. This gave me NOTHING and it was probably the character I wanted to know the most about. But we got zero clues, hints, or mentionings of who it could be. Maybe after learning who it is in the upcoming books, I will be able to go back and see the clues and that they were there all along (another good trait that good mysteries should have) but until then I am just left feeling disappointed.

All in all, I was super excited to read this book and maybe my expectations were too high because I just feel really let down. The next book in this series better blow me away because if not I may not end up finishing it.

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