A kidnapping, a boarding school mystery as old as the school itself, a new girl in town, and a suspicious death. It’s a recipe for a great book, and it’s the recipe Maureen Johnson used to craft Truly Devious, her first book in a new YA mystery series, out now from Harper Collins.
The story of Truly Devious is told in two parts. There is the past, the 1930s, where Ellingham Academy has just opened and the wife and daughter of the founder, super-rich philanthropist Albert Ellingham (think Rockefeller/Getty/Gates) have been kidnapped. Then, there is the present, the 2010s, where Stevie Bell arrives at Ellingham Academy for her junior year of high school set on solving the Ellingham kidnapping that left all three Ellinghams dead or presumed dead. She meets the other students, including an artist, a novelist, and a big time YouTuber, but before you know it, one of them is dead, and now the old mystery has come alive again. It’s a race against the clock to figure out if Truly Devious is back or what?
I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t fangirl over boarding school novels. I loved the Private Series, and this one had a lot of similar vibes, but more “updated” technologically and with more intrigue than class divide. I think the purpose of Ellingham, to provide a world-class education where people can pursue whatever academic things they want at no cost to them, lends itself to that. Of course, there are people there who are wealthy, but others, like Stevie and Ellie, are less wealthy. That doesn’t really affect the story too much, but it may come up again in later books.
I listened to this as an audiobook, so the back and forth between the past and the present wasn’t too hard to follow, but the use of transcripts with just initials was harder to listen to than it would have been to read. Nevertheless, I really got a sense of the past and the present and how they were related to the space, but they haven’t QUITE intersected yet in a way I’m satisfied with.
While the whole book is interesting, it really picked up at the end. The last 15% of the book is the meat, and it is setting up to lead into a great series. I’m really excited to read the next book and see how it all plays out! Will Stevie and that boy end up together now that we know what we know about his family? What happened to the student that died, and the student that ran when being questioned about his death? Will Ellingham Academy stay open? Is Truly Devious back? We’ll find out in the next book, but this book does a great job of drawing you into the mystery and making you want to learn more.