The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Putnam / Speak
Published: December 10 (originally February 23)
Genre: young adult, gothic, paranormal
Rory Deveaux has changed in ways she never could have imagined since moving to London and beginning a new life at boarding school. As if her newfound ability to see ghosts hadn’t complicated her life enough, Rory’s recent brush with the Jack the Ripper copycat has left her with an even more unusual and intense power. Now, a new string of inexplicable deaths is threatening London, and Rory has evidence that they are no coincidence. Something sinister is going on, and it is up to her to convince the city’s secret ghost-policing squad to listen before it’s too late.
After three weeks of pointless therapy in Bristol, Rory’s parents are convinced to send her back to Wexford in London to attempt to catch up and finish her first term. As Rory struggles with her trauma on top of mountains of schoolwork, she is recruited by the Shades as a human terminus: a person with the ability to zap ghosts into oblivion with the touch of her hand. But sinister events are happening around Wexford, events that link ghosts, Rory’s strange new abilities, and a history of madness.
Once again, Johnson brings forth a thrilling paranormal murder mystery to young adult fiction. Rory is witty and humorous, and her internal monologues kept me laughing even through the serious moments. The way she seemed to float through her week back at Wexford — aware she’s behind, stressing out and panicking, getting entirely distracted and researching the history of Wexford’s land and a historical madhouse, and then coming to terms with her own academic failure — felt so real. And surreal. She cannot focus, she knows her priorities, but her trauma and her desire for answers take over any rational thought she may have had prior to the Ripper accident. The whole first half of the book builds on this, and I was quite relieved — trauma can really disorient a person, no one can truly jump back.
This book appeared to have two things going on: more murders by ghosts, which makes Rory go on a quest about the history of London; and another secret society of ghost-seers and their plans for Rory’s cooperation. I was very intrigued by the madhouse storyline, about the bodies of the insane thrown into graves just outside the London city limits before the Great Fire, the site of which is below Wexford property. But the second we were going somewhere with that storyline, Rory’s tricked and abducted by a group of people who claim to have something in store for her, and threaten her to be silent and cooperate else all those she loves will be harmed. I felt a little lost with this one, as it could have used more development, but that’s what the next book is for, I suppose!
Because of Rory’s distracted mind, we rarely see Jerome, Jazza, Alastair, and other Wexford friends. Everyone is concerned with exams, and Jazza is desperate to pass German while Jerome is more concerned about Rory’s stability and openness for a relationship. Stephen, Callum, and Boo are back, thank goodness — and I loved seeing them working together and discussing “office dynamics.” We get a better feel for who they are as people rather than a police force, which is appealing for Rory.
The ending — the cliffhanger — broke my heart. I must find a copy of The Shadow Cabinet the second it’s published!