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The Vanishing Stair: Truly Devious, Book 2
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 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.
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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?
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