Something went deeply wrong while Ella was working as a nanny for Lonnie and James. Debut novelist Madeline Stevens opens Devotion six months after Ella's employment ends, when James drunkenly appears at the small apartment she shares with a roommate. She wonders if he realizes how many of the books on the shelves were taken from his house. Starting from that prologue, a sense of menace grabs the reader. When the first chapter jumps back to Ella's hiring and how working for the wealthy couple will change her life of scraping for food and rent, it is clear that lives will ultimately be ruined.
Far from her family and without close friends, Ella becomes increasingly obsessed with Lonnie, who is about her own age and casually blurs the lines between a professional relationship and friendship. The deceptively casual way in which Ella recounts reading Lonnie's journal or taking her things builds the sense of foreboding. Maybe Ella wants to be Lonnie, or maybe she wants to be with her, but alongside the envy and desire lurk clues that she could just as easily destroy the glittering world into which she has been allowed. The horrific culmination is difficult to read, but nothing less would be appropriate for this dark, absorbing novel. Although the protagonists are in their 20s instead of their teen or tween years, this is one for fans of such friendship-gone-wrong stories as Marlena by Julie Buntin and The Girls by Emma Cline. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library