A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this review for The Madness Underneath is a big spoiler for the first in the Shades of London mystery series, The Name of the Star, so be warned. Now readers of the gripping first book know about the ghosts Rory sees and a recovery from her encounter with a ghost impersonating Jack the Ripper leaves her scarred in more ways than one. There's less gore in this one, but still some deaths by falling, a bludgeoning, and a car crash. A kidnapping, near-suicide, and mentions of a past overdose round out the violent content. Like Book 1, the rest of the content is pretty mild, with just a little strong language, a little kissing, and some older teen drinking. More fascinating London history crops up as brave Rory discovers her skills as an investigator.
What's the story?
After confronting evil head-on and barely living to tell the tale, Rory leaves London's Wexford boarding school to recover with her parents in Bristol. But she's restless and can't talk to her therapist about what's really making recovery difficult: She can see ghosts, and not only that, but she has an unheard of power to dispose of them with just one touch thanks to the supernatural way she almost died. It's not long before strings are pulled to bring her back to London and Wexford (thanks to Stephen and his secret ghost-hunting police force that need her skill). But there's no comfortable dorm routine waiting for her. She's unbelievably behind in school work and way too distracted to study when she learns of a mysterious murder down the street, committed right along the crack that exploded open when she was attacked. As Rory begins to uncover what really happened, exams approach -- a reality almost scarier than what madness lies beneath Wexford.
Is it any good?
Topping The Name of the Star was never going to be easy, and author Maureen Johnson didn't quite manage it here. Johnson tidied up the gory mystery almost too neatly: Jack the Ripper II, dead and gone for real. But she still had Rory, her hip and hilarious main character. And now she has a special skill as a ghost hunter no one else has. Getting her back to Wexford takes some therapy sessions and too many pages. Getting her on the trail of ghosts again is also slow-going, and once she gets a great lead (old asylum -- cool!) that storyline dries up. And Book 1's constant tension (will the Ripper get Rory?!) is replaced with the looming anxiety of exams Rory will never pass. Not quite the same ... Finally THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH takes on a totally new villain near the end, clearly to keep the series alive.
While it's too bad the asylum storyline didn't stand on its own, there's still no passing up the Shades of London series. Not with Rory as the main character and all the fascinating and macabre tidbits of London history. And the cliffhanger at the end guarantees that Book 3 will fly off the shelves.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Madness Underneath measures up to The Name of the Star. Where do you think the series will go from here?
There's plenty of fascinating stuff to look up after reading The Madness Underneath: about Bedlam, the Eleusinian Mysteries, early London, and more.
Rory gets old-school with her research when she requests an old map of London. Do you have old maps in your local library that you can view? How far do they go back in history? What's changed in your town?
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