The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson


Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson ISBN: 9780399256615

**Note: This is a review of the Netgalley prepublished edition, which I was very pleased to get approved for.**

Plot Summary: The second installation in the Shades of London series finds Rory healing from the near fatal wounds she experienced after fighting the Jack the Ripper copycat on the streets of London. She struggles with not only her physical wounds but her emotional state, at least according to her therapist. She’s rather bored of being cooped up and longs to go back to school to see her boyfriend Stephen, and friends on the secret ghost police squad. But when she returns, she finds that things are different; she is behind in all of her classes and can’t seem to bring herself to do homework, and the spark that used to be there with Stephen seems to be flickering. Then she gets wind of murders happening near the grounds of her boarding school and decides to investigate further. And a classmate suggests a new therapist for Rory, who seems to make Rory feel at ease, but there’s something not quite right about her.

Critical Evaluation: The book seems to divide literary elements to character development in the first half and plot in the second. However, since this is the second book in the series, character development is somewhat limited to exploring Rory’s somewhat fragile mental state. She indicates that she feels fine, but upon her return to school, it becomes more clear through her disinterest in schoolwork and flashbacks in particular places of great significance that she is still struggling with what happened.

The plot development of the second half is truthfully more interesting to me, though some parts seem too slow, and others too rushed. The first murder takes place at the beginning of the book, but isn’t discussed much until the second half rolls around. And I think the idea of unhinged mental patient ghosts, but it isn’t much explored beyond the first murder that I can recall. Perhaps they will return to this in the third installment. I think that investigation is cut short by Rory’s involvement with the new therapist, and without revealing too much of the ending, even this conflict is wrapped up rather neatly, though there is a suggestion that it will return in the third book as well. I did find this book an enjoyable read, and will read the third installment, though I hope it can more fully explore some of the avenues presented in this middle book.

Reader’s Annotation: Not much time has passed since Rory nearly died fighting the Jack the Ripper copycat killer who turned out to be a ghost. Is she ready to tackle another case as people near her London boarding school start dying mysteriously as well?

Information about the author: Maureen Johnson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended the University of Delaware for a degree in writing, as well as the Colombia University for the Arts to study theatrical dramaturgy and writing. As a graduate student she held many jobs, like working in a haunted house themed restaurant, working on a show in Las Vegas, and being a fake employee for a company so it would look like they had more employees.

She now lives in New York City. The Name of the Star, the first book in this series, came out in 2011 and was nominated for an Edgar award. Many of the adventures that characters in her books face are based on real-life stories.

Genre: Thriller, Horror

Curriculum ties, if any: None.

Booktalking Ideas: By this point in the series, that ghosts exist and can kill people has been established, so I would build on the angry ghosts and secret squad of police officers that Rory works with.

Reading Level/Interest Age:  Rory is a high school senior in this book, but it is generally a rather tame read, besides the murder. Still, I think there is enough appeal for an older reader as well. School Library Journal suggests this book for readers in 7th grade and higher, and Publisher’s Weekly recommends it for readers 12 years old and up.

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

For the most part, the best reason to have this book is to meet the recreational needs of patrons. However, the first part of the book that details Rory’s therapy and struggling with a near death experience could be helpful for those who have experienced something similar.

Why did you include this book? : I loved the first book in the series, and don’t normally read books in the thriller genre, so it helps to round out my collection.

Reference Page:

Johnson, M. (2013). About page on Maureen Johnson website. Retrieved from

Maureen Johnson Author page. Goodreads. Retrieved from


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  1. Pingback: Alphabetical List of Titles | let's talk about that book...

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