The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson

>> Wednesday, February 08, 2012

TITLE: The Name of the Star
AUTHOR: Maureen Johnson

COPYRIGHT: 2011
PAGES: 384
PUBLISHER: Putnam Juvenile

SETTING: Contemporary London
TYPE: YA paranormal
SERIES: #1 in the Shades of London series

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.
Rory Deveaux's parents have accepted a job that will take them to England for a year. Far from being upset at leaving her friends in small-town Louisiana, Rory is really excited at the prospect of a year abroad, which, as her parents job will be in Bristol, she'll spend in a boarding school right in Central London.

Boarding school turns out to be pretty damn good. Rory doesn't have much trouble making friends, including her new roommate, and classes (hockey class excepted) are fine. The only fly in the ointment is that Rory has arrived just in time to find London in the midst of a massive panic. Someone is murdering people in a way clearly inspired by Jack the Ripper. The murders are taking place on the exact date Jack the Ripper's took place, and the women killed have similar names to the original victims, are murdered in exactly the same way as they were, and are left pretty much where the original victims were found.

Since Rory's school is right in the area of East London where all this is going on, this means that as the day of the next murder approaches, the excitement rises, and the school goes into lockdown. Typical teenagers, the students are not scared or upset about it, more excited and intrigued to know what will happened (actually, all of London seems to feel that way, which rings painfully true). Which is how, while doing something she shouldn't have been doing, Rory ends up seeing the man who must be the killer. She's the only witness, actually, which is quite strange, considering that her roommate was just next to her, and really should have seen him too...

Full disclosure: I find the whole Jack the Ripper thing fascinating. I've even actually gone on a Jack the Ripper walking tour. I tell people it was a great way to see the small glimpses of old London still alive under the quite ugly modernity of the financial district, but while true, that was a bonus, not why I did it. I confess to a ghoulish enjoyment of the story, even as I'm fully aware of the inappropriateness of feeling that way about a case in which people actually died. So I was well-disposed to enjoy this story, to say the least.

I liked it even more than I expected, because the Jack the Ripper overtones were just the cherry on a very good cake: the actual story was really intriguing and fascinating. I couldn't wait to find out what was going on, especially because in between the main sections, all narrated by Rory, there are short ones from the POV of various other people... someone who manages to get her hands on CCTV footage of one of the murders and realises that while the murder has been filmed, the murderer hasn't; a Ripperologist who has convened a sort of conference and finds himself forced by an unseen force to write a message on the blackboard when the lights suddenly go off. This works to show us readers that while Rory doesn't suspect for a long time that there is anything wrong, there is definitely something strange going on.

When we find out the truth, it's no letdown. I'm not even going to hint at what is actually going on, but it's really cool, and I loved Rory's role in it all.

The very well-done story was combined with truly superior atmosphere and setting. I loved the combination of the creepiness of the tone of the Ripper bits with the school atmosphere -especially because the school is very much a normal one. I also enjoyed the tourist-eye view of living in central London. It won't sound cool, but hey, I don't live in London myself, so I relished it.

Also, Rory was a great narrator. She reads real. She's ridiculously brave sometimes, but well, she's a teenager, so lack of consciousness of her own mortality comes with the territory. And she's got her insecurities as well. I liked her, and I'll be glad to continue reading about her. There's a sequel called The Madness Underneath coming in September 2012, and I'll definitely be reading it.

MY GRADE: A-.

3 comments:

Darlynne,  9 February 2012 19:58  

This sounds great and my library even has a copy. Thank you, I can't wait to read it.

rosario001,  16 February 2012 06:54  

Hope you like it!

Sandra,  29 February 2012 17:19  

You are not alone.  Even after 124 years, Jack the Ripper is not forgotten.  In fact, I recently saw a tv show in which a Ripperologist managed to track down descendant of several of the victims.  One of them looked exactly like her Great -Grandmother.  I can't recall if she knew of the connection or not.  I think the show ended with her taking flowers to the grave.

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