Book One of The Shades of London
By: Maureen Johnson
Date Finished: 04.04.13
“Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.”
“Gators are just something you have to accept where I come from.”
In addition to the hilariously accurate insights into Southerners, this book is incredible. For the sake of honesty, I should admit that I wanted to read this book because of the cover (who wouldn’t?) and had no idea what I was getting into. But this being my second Maureen Johnson experience, I figured it would be a safe bet and sure enough, my high expectations were exceeded.
Rory (Aurora after her great-grandmother) is a Louisiana native, but right before her senior year in high school her parents take a sabbatical in Bristol, UK. Her parents agree that Rory will have significant influence over where she attends her last year of high school and she chooses a boarding school in London. When Rory arrives, the city is in an uproar over a body that was discovered that morning exactly mirroring the first murder of Jack the Ripper. As autumn progresses and more copycat murders occur, London is gripped by Rippermania and Rory’s school is right in the heart of the kill zone. But the new string of murders doesn’t add up and Rory discovers she is one of the few who make sense of it.
Of all the books I’ve written about, this is the hardest one to keep spoiler-free — or at least limit them. It’s also one of the hardest to resist degrading into utter an fangirl. Johnson uses the voice of a savvy-but-still-awkward teenager and creates an immensely suspenseful landscape. Rory is straightforward and likable, but maintains a human quality that keeps her from being too good to be true. The supporting cast is full of rich, unique characters that Johnson is a master of portraying.
As for suspense? Seriously, this is not a bedtime read. It is a back porch, broad daylight novel.
Out of the whole book, I had one critique that I can no longer use. There are chapters sprinkled throughout in third person narration while the main portion is in first person. Rory narrates the first person sections while the other bits each use new characters to describe events connected to the bigger story. I wanted to say that this flip flopping distracts from the story and Johnson should have kept third person throughout, but then I reached the climax of the book. It is a glorious moment; one that shook the confidence of this lifelong reader. And third person would have deeply undermined its impact. Okay, yes. I’ll take a little clumsiness to allow such brilliance.
Looks like I’m losing the fangirl battle, so let me quit while I’m ahead. I think you get the picture…
At the end of the day: Really, really for me. No but really.