G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013
Review by Tessa
Rory Deveaux, transplanted private schooler, ghost-interacter-and-destroyer
Stephen Dene, head of the secret ghost division of the London Police
Callum & Boo, the other two members of the secret police squad
Jazza, Jeremy & Charlotte – school friend, boyfriend, and frenemy
Jane – a mysterious and almost supernaturally calming therapist who provides her services for free
The Ripper-emulating ghost re-terrorizing London has been destroyed, but not without weird consequences.
In The Name of the Star, Rory learns that the world is a little different than the normal world we all live in. It’s still normal, but some people can see and interact with ghosts–as long as you have the natural inclination and add a near-death experience into the equation.
Rory’s a fish out of water, being a ghost-seer, and a fish out of water, being a Louisiana native trying to hack it in a London boarding school for her senior year. Her snarky sense of humor helps her deal with all the weirdness being thrown her way, as well as her natural curiosity. Occasional drama-free makeout sessions don’t hurt, either.
However, the situation of figuring out the ghost-mystery-murders almost seems easier than the situation of picking herself up in the aftermath of the murders. Rory is failing school after spending time with a therapist and her parents in Bristol. She’s now a human terminus – her touch destroys ghosts – and the police want to use her as a clean-up tool for London’s ghostly lurkers, since the original diamonds used for the purpose went kaput. But she doesn’t know how she feels about being the post-Grim Reaper Reaper. Worst of all, she can’t confide in her friends, her boyfriend, or her parents about what’s really going on in her life.
On top of it all, the ghosts around London, especially around Rory’s school, are upping the ante on being angry and causing bloodshed. Rory thinks it might have something to do with what the area used to house, who was buried there, and maybe the crack that opened up in the earth when the faux-Ripper got terminated.
Then she’s fortuitously led to a laid-back, rich woman named Jane who’s been helping stuck-up Charlotte deal with her own Ripper trauma. Jane practices for free, always has brownies to offer Rory, and finally Rory can almost relax. Or should she?
Does this book live up to its intentions?
Johnson writes delicious hook-y adventures and her sense of humor is one that I enjoy. The Madness Underneath has all of these qualities and some shivery moments, too. I admired Rory’s feistiness in the face of depression and loved getting back to the foggy, twisty streets of her neighborhood. Johnson is very good at writing place – enough detail but not too much – and I could effortlessly picture where Rory was going (even if I can’t stop picturing Rory as Alexis Bledel).
The Madness Underneath definitely a second novel in a series of more than two books. Rory’s in transition and trying desperately to ignore that she might be in free fall. She tries to be normal but her life is breaking into some pretty clear paths. She has to decide what she wants and why, from boyfriends to future career plans. But there doesn’t seem to be space to think.
If anything, the book moves too fast, and, like The Name of the Star, drops off at a really crucial moment. The mystery that starts the book gets solved pretty quickly by Rory and the ghost squad, and then just as quickly is subsumed in a new, bigger mystery with sinister implications – really intriguing, culty, conspiratorial ones.
Then Johnson jabs us with two big knocks of the Plot Fist and closes the book. It happens so fast I don’t even know what I think of those developments yet.
Maybe I should’ve waited another year or so to read 2 & 3 in succession.
Want more ghost-exploring?
Try Karina Halle!
For the same traveling-in-a-new-place-and-discovering-otherworldy-things feel, try these:
Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
The Diviners by Libba Bray
Possessed / Consumed by Kate Cann