“Truly, Devious” Review: Seahawk Summer Book Club


Samantha Dickerson, Lifestyles Assistant Editor

“Truly, Devious” is the first installment of a young adult mystery series by Maureen Johnson intertwining two stories about murder in 1936 and “coming of age” in 2017. Although the ending was abrupt, the quality of the first book is a promising start for the second installment and is worth a read.

In the 1936 storyline, Albert Ellingham, a young, rich businessman, starts a new school for youth of exceptional intelligence. His life is wonderful and sparkling until his wife and child go missing in the span of a few weeks. He is sent letters and receives phone calls from the capturers known as “Truly, Devious,” asking for ransom money in exchange for the safety of their lives.

In the “coming of age” section of the story, a teenage girl named Stephanie “Stevie” Bell is accepted into a very prestigious school after becoming engrossed in solving mysteries and excelling in her love of crime dramas. She studies the murders that have famously occurred at the school she wants to attend and is accepted into the school because of her in-depth essay on the crime behind the murders.

After becoming socially involved at the school with the people that live in her dorm, called the Minerva after the Roman Goddess of wisdom and war, one of the students, a YouTube star called Hayes, asked her and her friends to get involved with his project of taping and creating a show around the murders. After Hayes dies while setting up for the show, the relationships between the students break down and Stevie begins working on her own to find Hayes’ murderer as well as solve the 1936 murder.

The plot of this book is strong and has a lot of fantastic qualities. However, the problem with having a two-part mystery series is that readers have to wait until the next book comes out to have any semblance of an ending. The next part of this series will be released in January 2019, which is a little under six months away, but readers can pre-order it at Amazon (Kindle).

The ending of this part of the series was very abrupt and a little confusing. After Hayes dies, Stevie begins a relationship with a dorm-mate named David, who is very quiet about his family and disappears often. While David had told Stevie that his parents were dead, he then alludes that his father also may be Edward King when he flies onto the school grounds in a helicopter. King is a politician that Stevie’s parents work for and who Stevie actively hates. This part of the ending comes out of nowhere and contradicts many of David’s actions in the book. The “mystery” of it is lost in how quickly it happens and how little it is explained before the book ends.

The ending of the book also alludes that none of the main characters that had been introduced in the 1936 storyline were the killer or kidnapper and that it was probably two of the founding students, even though they had only been introduced once. This was a little disappointing and should definitely be explained further in the second part of the book. It is generally one of the main characters that have had a lot of impact on the storyline and are trusted that turns out to be the killer and some of the connection was lost when the characters were so random.

Again, although the ending is abrupt, Johnson has written and captured intelligent, unique and funny characters in this book and that is undeniable. This book is a real look at high school students in the current era and it is refreshing to see real people reflected in a young adult novel. Although it seems in the beginning that each of them will be put in boring “boxes” based off of their talents and why they were accepted into the Ellingham Academy, the characters each hold secrets that shape the way the readers view them.

One example of this is Ellie, who is a secondary character that lives in the Minerva dorm with Stevie. While it seems that Ellie is a free-spirited, artistic, caring and independent force at the beginning of the book, it turns out that she may be the killer or be directly linked to the murder of Hayes. Johnson challenges the readers to accept that, in fact, young people can be full of depth.

Stevie herself is also a very interesting character because she deals with balancing her fear of failure in her social life, her academic love of mystery, and her anxiety, which is described in depth. Truly, Devious shows how her anxiety and panic attacks do make her life more difficult, but that they are manageable and how she works on them through diving into her work or speaking to her therapist. It is inspiring to see characters that have to work on their mental health and are also extremely intelligent because it showcases how even the smartest and strongest people like Stevie have anxiety, which will be helpful for some of its young readers.

Another interesting concept that is explored in this book is that of death and how people are allowed to speak of and perceive the dead. Hayes is not a necessarily nice character. He uses people around him and basically demands Stevie’s help. He uses girls in his life to do his work for him because he is famous. After Hayes dies in the book, many of the girls that he has wrongly used are fearful to speak of his dishonesty and cruelty. Stevie helps many of the young women to speak to her about his action in stealing their ideas.

This is a powerful part of the book because it shows the correlation between stardom and power, even on a teenage level. Because Hayes was loved, and because he made some of the girls seem somewhat crazy and angry, he comes out as a great person and people do not want anyone to talk badly about him after he dies, even though it is the truth.

For the second part of the Truly, Devious series, visit: