Maureen Johnson has contributed short stories to YA collections that I’ve read before, but The Vanishing Stair and its predecessor, Truly Devious, are the first stand-alone YA novels (Youths!) that I’ve read by her. The Vanishing Stair, in my opinion, really improves on the first book — mostly because it focuses solely on my favorite character, Stevie. However, you really need to read the first one before you read the sequel so go run and do that before you read my review. I’ll wait.
“He looked a bit more confused by Stevie and David, but nodded politely. “I’m a watch ad,” David said. “She’s a hipster grandpa. Together, we solve crime.”
Okay cool. So in Truly Devious, Stevie comes to this fancy prep school to solve a murder from the early 1900s. And of course, she stumbles across fresh murders and has to solve them. Then she leaves the school. But then! She’s asked to return to Ellingham Academy by the fancy-pants father of a classmate, and while she hates to do it under those circumstances, she can’t wait to return to the school. And yeah, that’s going to cause tension down the road.
The first book has a LOT of characters, and it doesn’t feel quite so much that Stevie is the star (even though she’s the star for me). In this novel, there are fewer kids (I mean, yeah because some are dead) and the teachers step back a little, and Stevie runs the show. Her wonderfully nerdy, awkward but also bad-ass persona works for me, and watching her hold her own against school officials and police officers made me proud.
The cold case definitely gets more attention in this novel, and Stevie makes progress, but I found the here-and-now case a lot more compelling. And I’m happy to see that a third is already expected for next year!