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The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Truly Devious is the first book in a trilogy by the 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 also found dead. The main character, Stevie, comes to the campus to study the old crime and ends up investigating the student's death as well. She realizes in the process how death really impacts people. This is a school setting for juniors and seniors. Students drink, one heavily; they swear in most conversations; straight and LGBTQ characters kiss; and there's talk of pot smoking. Social media is heavily used -- one student is a YouTube star.
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What's the story?
In TRULY DEVIOUS, Stevie is thrilled when she's admitted to Ellingham Academy in Vermont. Not only is Ellingham a prestigious and free boarding school, it's the home of one of the greatest murder mysteries of all time: that of rich entrepreneur Albert Ellingham's wife and daughter in 1936. It seems like a strange reason to be excited, but Stevie studies crime. She reads textbooks and mysteries and listens to true-crime podcasts and hopes one day to be a detective. As Stevie settles into her dorm at Ellingham and meets the other eccentric students there, her one-day dream becomes a reality too soon. A student is found dead. Everyone deems the tragedy an accident, but Stevie's not so sure.
Is it any good?
Like the author's Shades of London series, this trilogy start takes place in a hip boarding school that readers immediately will want to attend, even if there's a murderer in their midst. It's that cool. There's a study yurt, snowshoes issued to everyone -- it's Vermont -- a mansion, secret tunnels everywhere, and the students have fascinating fields of study. There's an opera singer, a visual artist, a video game maker, a novelist, an inventor, and an actor/YouTube star, for starters. And there's Stevie, who studies crime and wants to study everything about Ellingham Academy, where murders took place in the 1930s. The story jumps back and forth between 1936 and the present, cleverly piecing together brief stories and detective interviews from the past until a death of a student in the present pulls the reader into two complex cases at once. It also pulls the intellectually focused Stevie into an uncomfortable realization: She said she always wanted to see a dead body, and now she's facing the reality of it, with the shock and loss that goes with it. Her growth as a character adds depth to the story.
Readers will devour this mystery quickly and may be disappointed that so many loose ends remain. There's setup here that seems meant for other books in the series -- lots of time pawing through Albert Ellingham's desk tchotchkes and pondering the last riddle he wrote, for example -- making Truly Devious not stand alone as well as it could. But it does promise intriguing books to come.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Stevie's transformation in Truly Devious. She always wanted to see a dead body. What happens when she does?
How did Ellie break the rules of Ellingham Academy? How do Stevie and the other first years respond?
Will you read the next mystery in this series? What do you think Stevie will discover next?
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