The Vanishing Stair: Truly Devious, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
The Vanishing Stair: Truly Devious, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Hip mystery sequel is expertly paced and absorbing.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Main character reads a lot of classic mysteries -- Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, etc. -- listens to true-crime podcasts, studies books on crime, does careful, thorough research. During flashbacks to 1930s, some historical details, like radio drama War of the Worlds, start of World War II, and criminals Bonnie and Clyde. Some facts on eyeball dissection.

Positive Messages

Shows difference between emotionally distant fascination with crime study and real impact of crime: the shock, the mourning, the loss. The school values independent thought, personal expression, learning through games. On the minus side, the school also ignores some wild, destructive, dangerous behaviors, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Stevie is fully committed to using her talents to solve crimes, at expense of all else. She suffers in her relationships and makes some dangerous decisions, learning hard lessons. She stays afloat by knowing whom to trust. The school is diverse, with different talents (metalworking to video game design), different ethnicities, and LGBTQ representation and celebration.


One student and one adult found dead. Much talk about one of the deaths, suffering of victim. A kidnapping and seven deaths in the 1930s, from a gunshot, a bomb (with talk of body parts falling), a fall, suicide, and unknown causes, with a body found. A fistfight with much blood, uploaded to YouTube, and a house fire. Story of drunk person passed out in bath with minor burns.


Straight and LGBTQ kissing. Talk of a straight teen couple from the 1930s having a sex life.


Regular use of everything from "s--t" to "ass" and "d--k" in heated conversation. "F--k" used a few times.


Social media mentioned often, especially YouTube.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One adult character is an alcoholic and chain smoker -- she's not shown favorably. Talk about how school looks the other way when students drink. Students smoke and vape. Story of another woman who's an alcoholic, a woman who does cocaine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Vanishing Stair is the second book in a 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 kidnapping and murder happened in the 1930s. In the present, a student is found dead in the first book, Truly Devious, and another goes missing. The main character, Stevie, comes to the campus to study the old crime and ends up investigating current events as well. More mayhem happens around her -- a bloody fistfight, a house fire -- and she learns about more deaths. One of Stevie's advisers is an alcoholic and a chain smoker -- this is not looked upon favorably. This is a school setting for juniors and seniors. Students drink and smoke, they swear in most conversations, and straight and LGBTQ characters kiss.

User Reviews

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Kid, 10 years old March 9, 2019


The first truly devious did not fail to make a marvelous impression on me. I was SO, SO excited about getting it seriously you do not know. This one is even bet... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bybooklover1306 February 2, 2019

Captivating story

This was an AMAZING read! I couldn’t put it down, the plot is really unpredictable and interesting. The main character is an aspiring detective, she is tenaciou... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE VANISHING STAIR, Stevie will do anything to get back to Ellingham Academy. Even accept a private jet ride with the abhorrent politician Edward King. King just wants one thing from her: to keep an eye on his son, David, who has been behaving badly since she left. She would have anyway, given her attraction to him. And the fact that David knows so much about Ellie, the student who went missing after Stevie confronted her about her role in another student's death. With all the current chaos swirling around, and classes to catch up on, Stevie somehow still has her eye on solving the Ellingham kidnapping case from the 1930s. She's assigned to work with a professor in Burlington who wants to update her book on the subject. The professor claims to have an exciting new lead in the case, one she's not telling Stevie about. Little does she know that Stevie has a few leads of her own.

Is it any good?

This sequel is even better than the first at delivering layers of mystery -- in two time periods -- fascinating characters, hip dialogue, and expert pacing. Author Maureen Johnson has really hit her stride. The Shades of London series, also set in a boarding school, was really fun but didn't have this kind of polish. Johnson's most notable accomplishment is juggling crimes in two time periods and making them both seem incredibly urgent and exciting to solve. And, unlike a lot of mysteries that drag into trilogies, readers will be satisfied by the amount of crime-solving that's happened by the end of The Vanishing Stair.

Teen characters remain fantastic. Readers will fantasize about sneaking off to Vermont to room with Stevie and her eccentric friends. Mr. Ellingham doesn't come off as well. Johnson still seems to have her "Stevie" hat on when writing him. He appears more concerned with solving the mystery than mourning his lost family. It's a minor quibble in an otherwise absorbing and satisfying mystery.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the crimes in The Vanishing Stair. How did the pieces come together? What do you know at the end of Book 2? What is still unknown?

  • What did David upload to YouTube? Why do you think he did it? What's the danger of having shocking information about yourself on social media?

  • If you went to Ellingham Academy, what would you want to study? What would your big project be? Do you have unique skills like Stevie and her friends?

Book details

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For kids who love mysteries

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