As I discussed in a previous post, this fall and winter saw the release of long-awaited books from several of my favorite young adult authors. 2018 has already been an excellent reading year for me, kicking off with new work by Maureen Johnson and John Green. Both of these novels deserve to be shared.
Because of my enduring love for Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, I approached Truly Devious as a consolation prize for the final Shades book. Not my favorite ghost detectives, but a detective story at the very least. Instead I found a fun and complex story in its own right. Johnson has used boarding school settings before, but none like the secluded Ellingham Academy, a school for extraordinary students with very specific interests.
Stevie Bell comes to Ellingham on the strength of her true crime obsession, and her goal is to solve the the infamous 1930s kidnapping that took place on the estate. Johnson uses flashbacks and police interview transcripts to dramatize the events surrounding the kidnapping, as well as giving the reader a window into Ellingham of the past. As Stevie begins her investigation, she must also cope with her eccentric new classmates. Johnson is a master of the quick character sketch, bringing personalities to life within a few paragraphs. The stakes are raised for Stevie when another suspicious death occurs at Ellingham. These two parallel mysteries will unfold throughout the Truly Devious trilogy.
Turtles All the Way Down made me remember why I was obsessed with John Green for several years. He’s certainly an intellectual’s YA writer. With his frequent references to poetry and philosophy, he gives the reader explicit information about the themes he considers while writing his books. Personally I enjoy when an author has high expectations of me as a reader, and I like the idea that teenagers might explore other works as a result of reading this novel.
But lest you think this book is just a festival of philosophizing, Turtles All the Way Down has some visceral emotions at its core. John Green used his own experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder to inform the story. Asa Holmes wants to help her best friend find a fugitive billionaire—and maybe become reacquainted with his son—but her OCD is a near-constant obstacle. In his online content, Green often discusses how pain defies description, including the pain of mental illness. (See this wonderful video for more.) Much like The Bell Jar takes the reader inside depression, this book gives readers a clear picture of how OCD feels to those who live with it. And yes, it made me cry.
I came out of both of these reading experiences with an urge to look for author interviews and background knowledge on the books’ topics. As I’ve probably said before, I consider this one of the hallmarks of a great read. Now, of course, I must wait at least a year for the continuation of Truly Devious, but in the meantime I can get back to the Queen of the Tearling series.