Truly Devious | book review

Truly Devious

Title: Truly Devious
Author: Maureen Johnson
Series: Truly Devious, #1
Format: eBook (ARC)
Page Count: 432 (hardcover edition)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Original Publication Date: 2018
Genre(s): Young adult, Mystery/Suspense, Fiction

Look! A riddle!
Time for fun!

Should we use
A rope or gun?

Knives are sharp
And gleam so pretty

Poison’s slow,
Which is a pity

Fire is festive,
Drowning’s slow

Hanging’s a
Ropy way to go

A broken head,
A nasty fall

A car colliding
With a wall

Bombs make a
Very jolly noise

Such ways to
Punish naughty boys!

What shall we use?
We can’t decide.

Just like you cannot
Run or hide.

Ha ha.


This is the letter Albert Ellingham, one of the richest men in American, received just before his wife and daughter were kidnapped in 1936. It became one of the country’s most famous cold cases in history.

Ellingham ran a free school for the gifted, a magical place for high school juniors and seniors who just weren’t getting the attention they needed in the public school system. But not just anybody could get in—you had to appeal and be selected.

Flash forward to present-day, when Stevie Bell finds herself accepted into Ellingham Academy. It’s been decades since the famous Ellingham kidnapping occurred, and everyone involved is long dead, but for Stevie, the mystery is very much alive and well. Stevie’s not sure why she’s been accepted to this school for the gifted—she’s just an ordinary girl who likes mysteries. She’s determined to solve the Ellingham case, but winds up starring in a murder mystery of her own.

Truly Devious is a pretty fantastic book. It’s told in third-person through alternating chapters, flashing back and forth between 1936 and present-day. Half of the book focuses on the events that transpired with the Ellinghams, and the other half follows Stevie and her friends experiencing their own murder mystery. So, in essence, you’re getting two mysteries for the price of one! And both cases are tough to figure out, I must say.

I was a little hesitant at first, seeing the alternating chapters, because I usually find this to be quite unnecessary, but it worked well in this YA mystery. Both sets of characters are interesting, both mysteries are intriguing, and, the best part: neither are truly solved by the end of the book! An ominous To be continued… concludes the book, and I’m surprised to find myself desperate for more! I went into this book with little enthusiasm and finished it with unanswered questions and a lot of love.

What I really like, though, is that people actually die in this book. Okay, that sounded a bit morbid. What I mean is, typically, YA mysteries are watered down. Like, there’s an initial murder, setting off the mystery and suspense and blah blah, but I never really experience much suspense and never truly have any fear for the characters because everyone is almost always safe. No one else dies. The mystery is solved and served in a neat little bow. Truly Devious strays from that boring trope and actually has suspense and death. I loved it. It also heavily focuses on the aftermath of those deaths, rather than quickly glossing over the emotional stuff and just trying to keep up that suspenseful pace. I liked seeing the anxiety, the fear, and the sadness; I liked seeing the characters struggle and try to deal with it all. And speaking of…

WHAT A FANTASTIC, DIVERSE CAST OF CHARACTERS. Seriously. I applaud Johnson for including characters of various ethnicities, races, sexual orientations, and states of mental health. This is a big reason I really love YA as a genre—the writers are socially aware and inclusive, and it warms my heart on this cold, winter day.

Take the main character, Stevie, for example. She has anxiety.

“Nights always brought the worry. Night was hard.”

And Johnson perfectly exemplifies anxiety, in words, which I myself struggle with (hell, I can’t even verbally explain it, so yeah, kudos).

“Anxiety is just stupid. It’s unable to tell the difference between thing that are actually scary (being buried alive, for example) and things that are not scary at all (being in bed under the covers).”

It was really relatable.

“It didn’t matter where he was. So why was she so anxious? Because she had anxiety.”

I like Stevie and would easily say she’s one of my favorite narrators to date. I loved following her adventure, solving mysteries and navigating the rough waters of physical attraction and social encounters and such. I have a lot of love for Stevie.

I actually really enjoyed every character, in their own unique ways. That’s rare for me—to legitimately like every single character in a book. Which is why having any of them die is so painful for me! My babies! I definitely relate to Nate and am in love with him. David I was not a fan of, but slowly warmed up to him and, towards the middle, loved his sense of humor. If for anything, just read this book for the characters.

I first encountered Maureen Johnson in Let It Snow, the holiday romance novel also featuring Lauren Myracle and John Green (and I’m STILL waiting for that movie, people!). I loved her part of the novel almost as much as I loved Green’s, and that’s saying a lot. Reading Truly Devious, I realize just how amazing Maureen Johnson is, and how similar her style is to Green’s. Her writing is fantastic, especially the dialogue. She represents teenagers so honestly and accurately. And something I really like is the perfect balance she creates between dialogue, inner monologue, and setting description. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but Johnson does it well. I really look forward to the next installment in this book, and it’s going to be a long time from now because this one isn’t even released yet. Sad face.

A big THANK YOU to Epic Reads (and more specifically, Epic Reads Insiders) for a free ARC of this book! You guys are fantastic! If you’re not an Epic Reads Insider, check it out here and make sure to become a part of it! And while you’re at it, follow Epic Reads on all the social medias for tons of YA content.

Also, be sure to get your own copy of Truly Devious January 16 and read for yourself how awesome it is.

Favorite Quotes

–“Where her books were, she was.”

–“Some mistakes you have to make.”

*This review has been written based on an Advanced Readers Copy of the text. Changes may occur before the final publication is released.

My Rating

Weep Ranking

3 thoughts on “Truly Devious | book review

  1. Pingback: 2017 in Review

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