We’ve all been there, the reading slump. I’ve spent my fair share of time feeling the “wow, I’d sure love to enjoy this book or any book really but nothing is quite hitting the spot.” Often times when I’m in a slump like this, my mental health is to blame. Like many of you out there, I live with anxiety and depression. When I try to enjoy things, my mental health can sometimes make otherwise fantastic and vivid stories into flavorless lumps of mush. Earlier this year, I was in a HUGE reading and mental health slump. I had just started graduate school and really wasn’t feeling like myself. While my mental health dip took a bit more time and effort to overcome, my reading slump was cured when I met one of my new favorite books, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson.
Holy snood, y’all. This book had everything I needed to read. Frank discussions of mental health? Check! A captivating whodunit mystery with a plucky and relatable teen detective? I hadn’t known that’s what I was missing in my reading life, but check! A fantastic audiobook? You bet!
Truly Devious was recommended to me several times before I actually picked it up. I definitely regret not reading the book earlier, but I managed to finish Truly Devious days before the publication of the sequel, The Vanishing Stair. Waiting is hard, y’all. I’m going to hit pause on gushing over the book and actually tell you what it’s about. Truly Devious tells the story of Stevie Bell, a teen true-crime enthusiast as she starts school at the mysterious and elite Ellingham Academy.
Ellingham isn’t like any other boarding school. There are no tests and no interviews. All you have to do is write them a letter. Ellingham Academy caters to students with special interests. You have students who are published authors, up-and-coming actors, musicians, artists, and engineers. Stevie Bell is none of those things. Stevie is drawn to the school because of the unsolved kidnapping of school founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter and the death of a student in the 1930s. To Stevie’s surprise, she’s admitted into Ellingham and the adventure begins.
Now that you have the general set up, let me tell you what I adore about this book.
Ellingham Academy is a phenomenally atmospheric setting. The school is built around the former mansion home of tycoon Albert Ellingham and was built during the prohibition era. You know what that means? Secret tunnels.
Ellingham was fond of puzzles and games so he purposefully built secret passageways, false doors, and other such oddities all around the grounds. As schools go, wouldn’t you rather go to a school with secret tunnels than one without? More books should have secret tunnels. I demand more!
Stevie Bell is extremely relatable. Well, at least she is to me. Stevie struggles with anxiety and panic attacks and copes with them by immersing herself in true crime. True crime and horror are always my go-to when my anxiety is bad. I can’t explain why, but it helps. Stevie’s anxiety is realistic and portrayed well. She also doesn’t feel like she needs to keep her anxiety a secret and talks to her friends when she needs help.
I’m not a huge fan of books that treat mental health like a secret. Steve’s mental health is front and center in the narrative. Maureen Johnson did an excellent job portraying anxiety in a balanced way. It’s always there, but the narrative also doesn’t hit you over the head with it.
The mystery is SO GOOD! I can’t say too much about this without spoiling anything, but I think . The third book in the series comes out in January 20, 2020 and I’m so excited to see how it all wraps up. The first book ends in a cliffhanger, but if you start reading the series for the first time now, you won’t have to wait long or at all for the conclusion. If you like puzzle solving, Agatha Christie-esque plotlines, and fictional murder you will love this book.
If you’re like me and you’re waiting on the third book, here are some phenomenal read-alikes.
Happy solving, and be kind to yourself!
-Margaret Moore is a Youth Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.