The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

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REPRESENTATION: anxiety rep, nonbinary rep
CONTENT WARNINGS: mutilation, murder, loss of a loved one


“In life, the murderer is anyone. The reasons, the methods, the circumstances – the paths to becoming a murderer are as numerous as the stars.”

The Vanishing Stair was one of my most anticipated sequels for 2019 after falling absolutely in love with Truly Devious last fall. I was really excited to see what happened after that incredibly rude cliffhanger, and hoped to get more answers in this installment. 🕵️ I am pleased to say that we got some much-needed answers (& some new questions!), as well as more actual investigating, but overall this one fell into themiddle book syndrome for me. It was an enjoyable and I will finish the series, but if I am being honest I could have done without the first 40% of this book.

My friend Hamad @ Book Prescription summed up my feelings pretty well in his review:

“The Vanishing Stair was what I expected it to be; an unnecessary bridge to the third book and this whole series could have been a duology.”

The book opens up with Stevie back home in Pittsburgh, her parents having removed her from Ellingham Academy after news got out about what happened – and Stevie’s involvement – in the end of the book. She’s trying to readjust to life back home while still obsessing over the Truly Devious case, but we as readers feel the same disconnect she does once she leaves the Academy. Lucky for everyone she gets back into Ellingham, but not without strings. And the longer she keeps that truth hidden, the worse it is going to be for her.

“Murderers aren’t a type. They’re anyone.”

I got 40% into the book before any real investigating started to take place, which was a lot more of a disappointing pace than in the first book. I feel like there was a lot of repetition and reiteration in the narrative of The Vanishing Stair, and in my opinion there is little of value that was added in the first half of the book to where the mysteries uncovered here could have been part of book 1 and it may have been stronger for it.

I was rather disappointed with the “secrets for getting back into Ellingham and the subsequent fallout” plotline. The conflict made little sense to me and I was left wondering why she even kept it a secret to begin with. (For conflict, that’s why.)

I will say that this series has some amazing anxiety representation in it, and I really appreciate how Stevie’s anxiety is almost a character itself in this book. As a person who suffers from chronic and crippling anxiety, it means a lot to me to see it depicted with care on the page and have it normalized.

Despite my not really enjoying myself for almost half of the book, once the investigation and clues begin to fall into place I was absolutely hooked! I really enjoyed how everything was unraveled slowly, and you can tell than Johnson has plotted the main points of the overall mystery with care. I’ll admit that I guessed the big twist, but that isn’t uncommon for me to do so it never really lessens my reading experience. I felt like the ending made sense and I am excited to see how things wrap up!

Overall, while this wasn’t a perfect read for me it was definitely an enjoyable addition to the Truly Devious trilogy! You’ll learn the solution to Ellingham’s final riddle in this one, but there’s still more of this mystery to uncover. Looking forward to seeing how this one ends!

★★

You can find information about my rating criteria here.

All Stevie Bell wanted was to find the key to the Ellingham mystery, but instead she found her classmate dead. And while she solved that murder, the crimes of the past are still waiting in the dark. Just as Stevie feels she’s on the cusp of putting it together, her parents pull her out of Ellingham academy.

For her own safety they say. She must move past this obsession with crime. Now that Stevie’s away from the school of topiaries and secret tunnels, and her strange and endearing friends, she begins to feel disconnected from the rest of the world. At least she won’t have to see David anymore. David, who she kissed. David, who lied to her about his identity—son of despised politician Edward King. Then King himself arrives at her house to offer a deal: He will bring Stevie back to Ellingham immediately. In return, she must play nice with David. King is in the midst of a campaign and can’t afford his son stirring up trouble. If Stevie’s at school, David will stay put.

The tantalizing riddles behind the Ellingham murders are still waiting to be unraveled, and Stevie knows she’s so close. But the path to the truth has more twists and turns than she can imagine—and moving forward involves hurting someone she cares for. In New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson’s second novel of the Truly Devious series, nothing is free, and someone will pay for the truth with their life.


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Hi! I’m Kaleena: book lover, runner, wanderer, and philanthropist. Life is an adventurous gift: through the outdoors and books. I run Reader Voracious Blog, where I post spoiler-free book reviews of science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mystery & thriller.

21 thoughts on “The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

    1. Nooooooooo! Read it noooow so you can suffer with me! The worst part honestly is over, because the horrible cliffhanger is in book 1. Things come to a decent end in book 2 but there’s more to uncover, but I am less like OMG I NEED MORE NOW. But at any rate, whenever you read it, I hope you enjoy it!

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  1. awww I’ve been so excited about this one since my library hold finally came in, so it’s disappointing to hear that it’s a slow start. unnecessary lack of communication is definitely a super frustrating trope, especially where parents are involved. (can you tell I’ve been reading about too many dysfunctional families recently? 😅)

    glad to hear that it’s still a worthwhile read though, and that we do get the answer to the stair riddle haha. and hopefully the last book will be as good as the first!

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    1. Okay listen, maybe you won’t be as annoyed by the first 40% of the book as I was??? Most of my friends loved this book as much/more than Truly Devious, so I am interested in hearing your thoughts when you finally read it! The stair riddle answer is brilliant, and I wish I had guessed it’s solution hehe

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    1. Honestly I can’t think of many other books that address anxiety, let alone this well! Beneath the Citadel is the only one I can think of other than this series, but I didn’t like that book very much. I hope you enjoy the series if you decide to pick it up!

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