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The Student News Site of Hickman High School

Purple and Gold News

The Student News Site of Hickman High School

Purple and Gold News

Not to die for

Maureen Johnson’s spin-off murder mystery was nothing special

“The Box in the Woods” by Maureen Johnson was just okay.


This stand-alone novel is a spinoff of the New York Times bestselling “Truly Devious” series. This trilogy features the quirky Stevie Bell as she, and her newfound school friends, solve a decades-old murder case at her prestigious boarding school in Vermont.


The trilogy keeps readers on their toes as it weaves together perspectives of students at the school at the time of the murder with Stevie’s modern perspective as she attempts to crack the case. 


The covers of the Truly Devious trilogy by Maureen Johnson.

With moments of levity, almost always regarding the pervasive presence of maple syrup in Vermont, these first three books manage to balance a complex plot with impeccable character building to form an all-around enjoyable read.


However, Johnson’s spinoff falls short of this standard.


Lacking a unique plot, “The Box in the Woods” mystery feels like a worse version of the original series. 


Similarly to the first three books, in the standalone Stevie is solving a cold case that isn’t as far in the past as it originally seemed. The main difference: this time she is at a summer camp in the Berkshires.


In addition to the copycat set-up of the plot, the resolution of the mystery felt far-fetched and unforeseeable. Mystery lovers know that figuring out the mystery before the reveal is the best part of reading the book. However, this book lacks that opportunity because of how outlandish the killer’s story is.


The cover of The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson.

If the lack of individuality in the plot was disappointing, the flat nature of the characters in this book was infinitely worse.


While readers may have fallen in love with the characters in the original trilogy, they start to feel stale in the spinoff. Johnson attempts to create new interpersonal struggles between beloved characters but solves the conflict too quickly for the reader to feel any character growth. Due to this, it feels as if the book moved forward while the characters remained stationary.


This book’s saving grace is the scenic yet horrifying environment it takes place in.


Camp Sunny Pines has all the nostalgia of sunscreen and bug spray by a swampy lake but adds the unnerving qualities of horror stories by a campfire.


While everything seems perfect in this version of small-town America, the underlying threats and corruption call to mind scenes from Netflix’s iconic “Stranger Things.”


From a greasy burger and thick milkshake at a dinner full of listening ears to a heart-pounding race through a shadowy forest, this book has all of the makings of a perfect horror film.


Although the plot and character development were disappointing, the setting and opportunity to revisit beloved characters make up some ground.


This book isn’t a must-read or even a good read, but lovers of the original three may appreciate coming back to a familiar story. That being said, it was just okay.

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