A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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What's the story?
In THE HAND ON THE WALL, Stevie is reeling after the death of her advisor from a house fire. She knows it's no accident, like the other deaths at Ellingham School. She just needs to prove it, like she solved the cold case that originally brought her there. But she may not get the chance to look into the crime at all. Her house mate's Rube Goldberg invention goes haywire -- mysteriously -- and breaks a student's arm, prompting the closure of the school for the rest of the semester. As everyone prepares to go home in a hurry ahead of a massive blizzard, Stevie's ex, David, shows up with a proposition for Stevie and her friends to ride out the storm at the school in secret. It may just be the time Stevie needs to solve the case before she leaves Ellingham for good, or it may be a decision that leads to disaster.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Stevie's decision at the end of The Hand on the Wall. What is she not telling? Why?
Whom did you suspect throughout the series for murders past and present? Did it change with each book? Were you right?
Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes mysteries are mentioned often in this series. Will you read some of the classics after reading this mystery series?
- Author: Maureen Johnson
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
- Publication date: January 21, 2020
- Number of pages: 384
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 15, 2021
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