The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson. Katherine Tegen Books, a division of HarperCollins, 2021. 9780063032606
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
What did you like about the book? Stevie Bell, intrepid young detective of the Truly Devious trilogy, is back, and her summer working at a deli counter is truly boring. An offer to come solve the decades old mystery of the murder of four teens at a Massachusetts summer camp is too good to pass up, especially as her friends Janelle and Nate can come too. The only catch is, they actually have to pretend to be camp counselors. Craft-loving Janelle loves the opportunity to organize and create, but Nate and Stevie are in personal hells of avoiding the kids and their projects. Nonetheless, Stevie’s amazing powers of observation lead her to delve deep into the mystery in the small town of Barlow Corners, and to ferret out evil in its midst.
Stevie is such a fun character – she’s got deficits in social/emotional parts of interactions, but her friends love her for who she is, especially her boyfriend David, who makes an appearance in the book as well. Johnson’s writing exposes Stevie’s faults with wit and deadpan humor which had me laughing out loud, even as I shuddered at the violence of the murders. Nate also adds to comic relief. It feels like Stevie has further honed her detective’s eye, making for beautiful descriptions of the dark, foreboding forest in which the camp is situated. The reader sees her analytic style applied to everything and goes through a process of discovery with her, which is just as interesting as the solution to the mystery. As in the previous series, she and her friends do have to contend with people who would do them harm, so this is no lighthearted romp.
Johnson intersperses the narrative with passages from 1978, when the murders took place, and does a great job of evoking that era. The scenes describing the murders are truly horror movie material. There is some light romance between Stevie and David, and one can only hope that Johnson will continue to develop this in future books!
Anything you didn’t like about it? No
To whom would you recommend this book? For fans of Truly Devious (although this title stands alone), and anyone who loves a mystery with believable teen characters.
Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it ? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA
Date of review: July 17, 2021