Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

March 12, 2015 Reviews 4 ★★★★

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Series: Shades of London # 1
Published by Putnam Juvenile on September 29, 2011
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 372
Format: Hardcover
Source: Own
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.

I purchased The Name of the Star two years ago at a book event with Maureen Johnson and Stephanie Perkins.  This was very shortly after I started blogging and joined Twitter, and at the time of the event, all I knew about Johnson was that she was hilarious on Twitter.  She was even funnier in person, and I thought, “I cannot wait to read this woman’s books.”  And then this book, along with the sequel, which I also purchased at the event, sat on my shelf for two years.  I’m actually glad for that, because by the time I finally picked it up, I’d forgotten any of the details that she mentioned, and all I remembered was that it had something to do with Jack the Ripper.

But before we get to Jack the Ripper, let’s talk about the MC, Rory, who has a fish out of water experience when this Louisiana girl decides to attend boarding school in London.  I’ve said it before – I love stories with a boarding school setting.  There is so much potential in these stories for rich, bratty kids to get into trouble.  (Yeah, I stereotype just a bit.)  But The Name of the Star surprised me.  Where was the drinking and drugs?  Where was the pack of rich, mean, snobby British girls whose only purpose was to torment our MC?  Where were the wicked and/or sex-crazed teachers?  And then I realized that the lack of these tropes was quite refreshing.  Rory’s relatively normal and peaceful school was quite a contrast to the things that were occurring outside her school, namely the serial killer who was emulating the murders of Jack the Ripper.

Oh, this was fun, setting aside the whole “people getting brutally butchered is awful” stuff.  It took a couple of murders before the police and the residents of London realized that the present day murders were occurring on the anniversaries of the original Ripper murders, and the manners of each killing were identical to the originals.  While the dates of the subsequent anniversaries approached, the expected fear was displaced by a carnival atmosphere.  Bars had Jack the Ripper drink specials.  London residents partied and placed bets on exactly how the next murders would play out.  TV stations started airing Jack the Ripper shows, almost in celebration.  News anchors breathlessly awaited the opportunity to announce the next murder live on air.  It sounds insane, but is it?  I actually think that if something like this happened, this is exactly how the public and the media would respond.  While reading this story, I was reminded of the early 9/11 “anniversaries” when it seemed that the media almost salivated while waiting (and possibly hoping) for another attack.  Or when a plane crashes, and the media speculates that it might be terrorism, and then there’s an air of disappointment when it’s discovered that it was “just” and accident.

About halfway through the story, I had a “Whaaaat???” moment when a paranormal element was introduced that threw Rory right into the midst of the murders.  Before this happened, she viewed the murders with a mixture of fear and intrigue.  The murders were just something that was happening around her, but she felt secure in the cocoon of her school.  In hindsight, for reasons that I won’t mention, this twist should have been obvious.  It was interesting, and it worked, but I think the story would have worked just as well if it played out in a more “normal” fashion.

I read this book and the next two in the series back-to-back over the course of a week.  Probably not ideal, because by the time I finished the third, The Shadow Cabinet, things were feeling a little stale, and I was wishing for a new type of experience for Rory.  (I’m trying to be vague here.)  However, Johnson does a great job of upping the stakes in each book, and the ending of The Shadow Cabinet is pretty wild, with two new and fantastically creepy antagonists on the run.  I’d actually thought that that was the end of the series, but there is an upcoming fourth book.  By the time it’s published, I know I’ll be well over this bit of series fatigue and ready for some new adventures with Rory.


4 Responses to “Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson”

    • Stephanie

      I hope you enjoy The Shadow Cabinet. And I can’t wait to hear what you think of the new baddies.

    • Stephanie

      I was thinking about this – wouldn’t it be fun if authors “rebooted” their books occasionally by switching up some plot points?

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