Book Reviews

[review] The Name of the Star – Maureen Johnson

Release Date: September 29, 2011 (U.S.)/October 4, 2011 (Canada)
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 372
Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal library

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.
Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Discovery: I am a jar and proud of it. Maureen Johnson is one of my favourite authors and this new series is just what I’ve been looking for.

+     Ghosts. Bless the day this book was published, because I’ve been waiting for a great ghost story for ages! Vampires and werewolves and angels do nothing for me, but ghosts? There’s a gold mine that’s just dying (HA HA) to be explored. I loved how random the situation seems to be: a Southern girl moves to London for ten months and comes face-to-face with Jack the Ripper. There aren’t any tired old cliches or tributes to successful ghost stories here. Maureen Johnson expertly ties together her own mythology and sprinkles it with a healthy dose of historical accuracy, making for a romp of a tale. Of course, the reader is haunted (it’s just too easy) by a question right at the start: what is “the name of the star?” The answer is a brilliant play on words that all readers will enjoy.

+     Humour. I’m going to point this out even though most people who’ve read an MJ book already know how funny she is. It’s not a ha-ha kind of humour, but more like a snicker and a shared look of woe over how no one else seems to get it but that’s fine, that’s fine, we are all safe and happy in our jars and troosers. A lot of the things I laughed at were one-liners and references to other books or TV shows that I wasn’t expecting. If you know me well, you’ll know why I burst out laughing during the costume party scene. It was a great balancing act and one that Maureen succeeds at with aplomb.

+     Smart, snappy writing. The MJ books I’ve loved most were ones narrated in the third-person, like The Bermudez Triangle and Suite Scarlett. Naturally, the discovery of Rory’s first-person perspective surprised me. It worked well for the story–the reader needs to feel that connection to Rory and what she’s going through. I also enjoyed the voice MJ employed because of its innocence and wry intelligence. 

There have been some complaints that the first 100 pages were mostly exposition and not enough action. I can see why they might say that, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. It’s clear that the story needed that kind of extended set-up for the rest of the novel to work. One thing I’ve always liked about MJ’s books are that they are very easy to read. You’re not struggling to understand overly lyrical prose, but at the same time, her personality shines through. I love it when books shine a light on the writers behind them, because they give the story new dimensions.

Recommendations: Teen and adult readers will both enjoy this gritty and enthralling ghost story from the Queen of Danube, Maureen Johnson. No promises that you won’t want the second book in the Shades of London series IMMEDIATELY after reading.

Rating: Excellent.

Go visit Maureen Johnson at her website and follow her on Twitter @maureenjohnson.

You can check out The Name of the Star on Goodreads and order it over at Amazon and Book Depository.

Next review: 10 Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn’t Have), Sarah Mlynowski


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