The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
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, humour, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.
The Name of the Star is the first book in a new series titled Shades of London. Maureen Johnson is no stranger to the world of YA fiction having already written numerous novels, most notably 13 Little Blue Envelopes published in 2009. The Name of the Star is again, one of those novels I’ve heard many good things about, particularly amongst my fellow Waterstone’s staff across the country. Of course, when books are hyped up as much as this you can’t help but expect to read something brilliant, especially when it has such a beautiful cover! Sadly for me, I think I came to expect a little too much from it, leaving me feel a little deflated once I’d turned the final page.
The first thing that really grabbed my interest in this novel was the fact that Rory Dexeaux is a teenager fromLouisianawho moves to aLondonboarding school for a year. The way the whole story was told from an American’s point of view was fantastic and really made the narrative feel ‘fresh’. There were some great references in there to the differences between the British and American cultures, even things I’d never thought of before. Rory’s little anecdotes about her family and their life inLouisianabrought a touch of humour to an otherwise dark story, which I welcomed wholeheartedly. These little snippets were a showcase of just how original Johnson could be as a writer, and I felt it was a shame that this wasn’t quite reflected in the rest of the story.
Perhaps the most unoriginal thing about the whole novel is the boarding school setting. It’s been used countless times in YA fiction and it often becomes very tedious. I think a school setting is fine, but a boarding school just confines the story to the same setting over and over again. Since I found Rory’s family to be one of the highlights of the whole story, I think it would have benefitted from having more of them actually in it. Her parents’ absence from the novel is also somewhat unrealistic. I mean, when a man is murdering people in the area of a school, what kind of parents are just going to let their children carry on staying there? There were far too many of these unrealistic elements that were almost ignored just so the story could plod along how Johnson wanted it to. But none of it rings true, and the result is a not-so-believable story.
Johnson has obviously meticulously researched the Jack the Ripper killings, and she brings enough of the facts in to hold your interest and doesn’t ever overload you with them. I also like the fact that Johnson doesn’t shy away from the violence of these murders, despite it being a YA novel. But the problem is that when you’ve got a copycat murderer and you know what murders are going to happen and when, it kind of takes a little of the suspense out of it all. That’s not to say I was bored, I still felt motivated to keep reading and wanted to carry on with the story, but it just seemed a little lacking in the shock factor.
Where the story really comes into its own is when Rory meets Boo, Stephen and Callum – three secret policemen who hunt ghosts for a living. These characters had much more depth than Jazza, Rory’s roommate, and Jerome, Rory’s rather dull love interest. They felt like much more developed characters who each have very distinct personalities. As soon as these characters were introduced to the story I suddenly became excited and wanted to know more about them. But my favourite character of all has to be Jo, a ghost who died in the war. She was such an endearing character – the lonely ghost who picks up people’s trash just for something to do. I instantly loved her.
Despite these negatives, I did actually enjoy this book. It wasn’t perfect by all means, but it is an enjoyable bit of escapism, and definitely a bit different from your average YA novel in terms of context. The great thing about this novel is that I think it holds a lot of promise for the series in the long run. I’m excited to see where Johnson will take Rory next, as she obviously becomes a part of this ghost-hunting team. How exactly can she follow-up Jack the Ripper? With the possibility of Stephen, Callum and Boo becoming much more central characters in the next book, I’m confident that book two in the Shades of London series will definitely outshine this one.
The Name of the Star is out now, published by Harper Collins. Thanks goes to the publisher for providing me with a proof copy for review.
Jack the Ripper Fan Walk
To celebrate the publication of Maureen Johnsons new YA thriller The Name of the Star, HarperCollins Children’s Books is offering 10 lucky readers the opportunity to accompany Maureen Johnson on a private Jack the Ripper walk in London on Thursday, 13th October 2011.
The walk begins at 5:00 PM and will carry-on for two hours into the night! Visit the haunting sites of Jack the Ripper and hear first-hand from Maureen how they inspired her new book The Name of the Star.
To enter, simply email email@example.com for a chance to attend the event with a friend.
Disclaimer: Entrants must be 13 or over. Please ensure that you are available to attend the event on Thursday, 13th October from 5.00pm to 7.00pm before entering. Winners will be informed on Friday, 7th October, and will be provided with further instructions then.