A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
References to detectives in mystery novels, especially Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. Plus spoilers from F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. The book's title comes from Belshazzar's Feast in the Bible (Book of Daniel). An explanation and demonstration of a Rube Goldberg machine, talk of the principles of physics, and some general anatomy. Some incidental history from the Great Depression.
Examines the corrupting influence of wealth in two different timelines: the present and the 1930s. Truth and justice win out here, but after much sacrifice and bending of the rules.
Positive Role Models
Stevie gains confidence as a detective and trusts her instincts more here, though flouts the rules plenty and endangers her own life to follow her leads. She suffers from panic attacks and doesn't allow them to take over her life. The school is diverse, with different talents (metalworking to video game design), different ethnicities, and LGBTQ representation and celebration.
Violence & Scariness
Deaths by bludgeoning, measles, and a fall. Much talk of mystery surrounding deaths that happen in previous books: through a house fire, suffocation, a fall and bludgeoning, a shooting, and a boat explosion. Bodies are exhumed and buried, an arm is broken.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teens in the 1930s have sex, with little described beyond the fact that it fit with their wild personalities. Teens, straight and LGBTQ, kiss. The main character falls asleep with her boyfriend at least partially undressed.
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Regular use of everything from "s--t" to "a--hole" and "d--k" in heated conversation. "Bitch" used rarely. Shouts of "Jesus!" when someone is startled.
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Products & Purchases
Stevie shops at L.L. Bean and takes Ativan for anxiety. Some mentions of social media, but more general than in previous books in the series.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Smoking, cocaine use, and drinking (gin, whiskey, champagne) mostly in the 1930s. Mentions of present-day professor with a drinking problem who smoked.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Hand on the Wall is the final book in the acclaimed mystery trilogy by Maureen Johnson, author of the Shades of London series. The story takes place at a school for gifted students in Vermont where a kidnaping and murder happened in the 1930s. The main character, Stevie, comes to the campus to study the old crime and ends up also investigating the death of two students and a professor that happened in Book 1 and Book 2. There are also deaths by bludgeoning, measles, and a fall, plus a broken arm and the exhumation of remains. This is a school setting for juniors and seniors. Students swear in most conversations, straight and LGBTQ characters kiss and fall asleep together, and they break a lot of rules and are only mildly punished for it. Drinking, smoking, and drug use happens mostly in the 1930s. Two students also have sex in the 1930s with little described. Surrounding all the crimes, past and present, is the corrupting power of wealth. Stevie, seems immune to these influences and stays focused on finding justice and the truth for the deceased.
Is It Any Good?
This hip mystery trilogy finale is an addictive page-turner that piles on the murder plots and intrigue in two time periods. When Stevie and jer friends in The Hand on the Wall get trapped in a Vermont blizzard, you'll wish you were in similar straits, just so you can speed to the big reveals at the end without interruption.
All the fun elements of classic mysteries are here: secret passageways and family secrets aplenty, the gathering of the suspects in a mansion, ransoms and kidnappings, and millions of dollars at stake. Author Maureen Johnson takes these classic components and spins them into something modern with a relatable teen sleuth who suffers regular panic attacks, her eclectic group of talented friends, and a rebellious love interest with a very Trump-like father. This is the kind of absorbing series that teens and up will be reading and rereading for years to come.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.