A Spoiler Free Review: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

Wow. That may be the only word I can comprehend at the moment, because this book was spectacular. I will keep my description of this book minimal due to the fact that it’s a sequel, and a portion of the plot is based on the events of the previous book. If you would like to read my review of the first book in this trilogy, Truly Devious, click here. The second installment takes place in the same location as the first, Ellingham Academy, an elite school for the best, brightest, and quirkiest students. Every student at Ellingham Academy has something that they excel at, and Stevie Bell’s “thing” is solving mysteries. More specifically, she comes to the school with the intent of solving the infamous cold case that occured at the school in the 1930’s. The story is told with perspectives in both the present and the past, giving the reader a view of the mystery from all angles. Trigger Warning: This book contains minor descriptions of anxiety and death.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I found the mystery to be extremely intriguing; the ending had me shocked and eager for the next installment. I would recommend this trilogy to teens who are mystery fans, but it may seem juvenile for some readers more seasoned in the genre. Just like the first book, The Vanishing Stair was extremely diverse and included characters from nearly all walks of life. This enhanced Johnson’s storytelling, and overall made the events feel more authentic.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Now, let’s discuss what made this novel truly spectacular:

When crafting a mystery, the plot is possibly the most important element. It houses the clues, deaths, and potential plot holes. When executed poorly, the reader is left unsatisfied and underwhelmed. I loved all of the new plot points and felt satisfied with the way Johnson explored them. On the other hand, I wasn’t the biggest fan of how events from the previous book were handled. For example, one of the “big reveals” didn’t feel as impressive as it was likely intended. This did not, though, hinder my overall enjoyment of the story. The positive aspects of the plot greatly outweighed anything that I disliked.

The characters in this book were my personal favorite part of the story. As I mentioned before, they were extremely diverse and authentic. They felt like actual teens that I could be friends with; even the way they handled situations was realistic. Some of the new characters that Johnson introduced were absolutely enthralling, and I really grew to love some of them. A lot of stories forfeit character development for a fast-paced plot, but this book balanced the two perfectly.

Finally, the writing. Johnson took on a conversational tone, making the reader feel like at times they really were looking into a teenage girl’s life. The story is told in the third person, and as she switches from the 1930’s to the present, her voice changes as well to fit the character she’s following. I found the switch in narration very impressive, considering I’ve read many YA novels where the author fails to change the voice when going to a different characters perspective. There were a few attempts at teen vernacular that she completely missed the mark on, though. I found it funny more than anything, but I hope she finds a teen to proofread any Gen-Z jokes she makes in the next book.

Overall, this book made me want to read more mysteries. I can’t wait for the next book to come out, especially with the cliffhanger-ending Johnson left us off on.


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