Friday, February 9, 2018

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Stevie is excited to be attending the extremely exclusive private school Ellingham Academy.  Besides the exclusivity of being accepted to Ellingham, there are the bonuses that she will be living away from  her conservative parents and she will be on the site of one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of all time.  For someone who wants to be a detective, this is an incredible opportunity to gather first hand evidence. Albert Ellingham's wife and daughter were kidnapped in 1936 after a letter arrived promising murder and mayhem.  The kidnapper/killer has been dubbed Truly Devious because of the way in which the letter was signed.  The wife's body was found later but the daughter has never been found and no one has ever been arrested.  Stevie aims to solve the mystery that has baffled everyone else.  But before long, Stevie and the rest of Ellingham Academy's residents are caught up in a new mystery on campus that has ties to the original one from 70 years ago.

THE ENDING!! YOU'RE KILLING ME WITH THAT ENDING, JOHNSON!!!!!  I am well known by both my faculty and students for never (well, hardly ever) reading sequels. I have too many things to read and I'm usually happy enough with the first book to move on.  Plus, as a librarian, I have a grudge against all these trilogies and trying to keep up with the release dates of various sequels.  I also give a loud "hmph!" to books with hard cliffhangers. There is no need for leaving your reader that way! But despite all my crabbing, I liked this book enough - which is to say a lot - that I will read the sequel whenever I can get my hands on it.  I've already searched every ARC source I have at my disposal to see if I can somehow backdoor the system.  Nope, I'm stuck waiting like the rest of the world.  So, what was so good about it?

Both timelines were interesting to me and both had their big share of clues and unanswered questions.  What is happening with those houseguests and Ellingham's wife?  I don't know, but something's up.  About the only thing I managed to figure out in either timeline was the probable identity of the original Truly Devious.  It is a rare book that keeps me guessing and yet doesn't leave me feeling like the author cheated by not planting enough clues.  For the (very) few things that were revealed by the end of this book, the clues were there, just not blaringly obvious.

All the students were quirky as you would expect at an extremely selective school, but they were also realistic and didn't feel quirky just for the sake of being quirky.  My only complaint regarding the characters is that I wanted Janelle to factor in more.  I started out expecting this to be a trio of friends doing the investigating but it really became mostly about Stevie.  But I do love the nonchalant inclusion of Vi who uses the pronoun "they" without anyone giving that a second glance or Johnson making a long passage explaining what is happening.  Get with the times, reader.

I felt the sinister atmosphere in both timelines.  I am particularly stressed that Stevie hasn't told anyone about the new Truly Devious letter and who did that and now she doesn't remember what it said!  I know that I can just go back and reread it myself, but that seems like cheating since our MC can't do that.

After all these positives, then the ending comes and that's the main reason I can't give this book five stars because hardly anything is wrapped up.  I know it's a series and I can even handle that, but it seems that at least a couple of loose ends should've been tied up.  Despite the stupidly hard cliffhanger(s), when I finished the book I didn't want to start another one because I was afraid it would ruin the happy, satisfied book glow I had.  So I just sat and thought about Truly Devious awhile, tweeted at/began stalking Maureen Johnson, and enjoyed the warm, good book feeling.

PS:  The next book DID ruin it.

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