Truly, Devious by Maureen Johnson

Stevie Bell is weird in the sense that she is obsessed with true-crime, and mysteries in general. Which isn’t my kind of weird, but still endears her to me – because besides being passionate about true-crime she is also smart and ambitious and snarky which are all things I like. She’s excited about being accepted to Ellingham Academy, a private school in Vermont that prides on having the best thinkers, inventors and artists. It was also the site of the kidnapping and murder of founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter – a crime that was never solved.


Albert Ellingham loved riddles, and built his school because he wanted to create a place “where learning is a game.” When his wife and daughter were kidnapped, the only clue was a “riddle” that was really just a list of ways to kill people, signed by Truly Devious. Years later, the identity of Truly Devious is still unknown, and Stevie believes that she will be the one to finally solve the mystery.


The novel goes back and forth between Stevie’s experiences at the school, scenes or transcripts from the past, when the Ellingham case was new. In the beginning, it’s really all about Stevie – making friends for the first time, beginning on her research on the case, working on a school project, etc. But of course, Truly Devious reappears, with a new letter, followed by a new murder. Now Stevie has two mysteries to investigate, and not enough information on how the two could be connected.


Usually I dislike reading mysteries, as well as historical fiction, and this book is kind of a combination of both, and that may have affected my enjoyment of this book, just a little. I’m still not that keen on the dual timeline, and take a longer time reading the scenes set in 1936, but I do appreciate that these scenes feel natural and work well to complement the scenes set in the present time. And this book is SO FUN to read! I may not be that invested in the mysteries myself, but I love Stevie and I like stories set in schools or camps for smart/gifted students (not that I’ve read a lot).


I also really like that the romance isn’t heavy – Stevie has an obvious romantic interest but it never overtakes the story, which is a nice change from a lot of the YA I’ve been reading. I like her friends, especially Nate, because I relate to him a lot.


Even though Truly, Devious isn’t a supernatural story like Maureen Johnson’s previous trilogy (Shades of London), thanks to the setting and some of Stevie’s discoveries, and yes, even the 1936 scenes, there are moments in the book that feels unsettling or creepy, which is definitely more my kind of thing. And the cliffhanger! I remember ranting to my book chat groups the moment I finished this book.


In the end, this is a book that has a few things that just aren’t my thing, but is a really fun read, and so I would say that I like this book, but if you don’t have my hang-ups regarding mysteries or historical fiction you’re probably going to like it a lot more.

  • I received an ARC from Harper Collins through work. Thanks, Molly!

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