Johnson, Maureen. The Name of the Star. 372 p. 2011. Putnam. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780399256608.
Okay, this is another one of those books that should have come equipped with a babysitter so I could drop everything else and read. After a somewhat leisurely beginning, it soon becomes completely engrossing and I could NOT put it down.
I mean, I did, though. My kids didn’t go hungry! But as soon as they were napping... my nose was right back in this book.
New Orleans native, Rory, is off to boarding school in London when her parents relocate to England on sabbatical. She thinks the hardest part will be fitting in with her classmates and keeping up with things like double maths. She didn’t expect to become a witness in the investigation of murders imitating the infamous Jack the Ripper crimes. And why is she seeing people that nobody else seems to notice?
Johnson brings her trademark humor even to this dark premise involving serial murders and the supernatural, playing with the contrast of England and the American South with hilarious effect. Too, I enjoyed the details of Rory’s British boarding school experience and the depiction of feeling like a fish out of water as an American abroad. These aspects of the story will appeal to fans of Stephanie Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss-- only instead of a sweet, cozy romance, you get an edge-of-your-seat paranormal murder mystery! The balance of humor and suspense, combined with tight plotting and strongly driven pacing makes for a thoroughly appealing mix.
Characters are well-developed; I feel like Rory is someone I’d hang out with. Secondary characters are fleshed out, with quirks all their own. Rory’s very earnest roommate, Jazza, is especially adorable. This might be my adult perspective speaking, but I might have liked to have seen more of Rory’s parents. Their absence was necessary for the story, but perhaps a little too convenient. I doubt teens will balk at the fact that Rory is able to easily evade parental influence, however.
Beyond the primary plot, there are some great themes to explore in this book. In particular, Johnson touches upon society’s fascination with the most gruesome things in the media, and how we’ve become desensitized to the horror of it all through sensationalism. The role of the media was instrumental in making the original Jack the Ripper case so famous, and Johnson deftly shows how very little has changed over the years in that regard.
This book is full of fascinating information about the darker elements of London’s history; Johnson must have done extensive research. After I turned the last page of the book, I was compelled to read more on the Jack the Ripper case, abandoned train stations, and the devastation caused to the city during World War II. I love it when an author gets me hooked on topics I hadn’t previously known much about! And I have to admit, it warms my little librarian heart to think that teen readers might be interested in learning more about the history in this book, too.
The story wraps up nicely, but a twist at the very end leaves the reader satisfied yet eager for a sequel. This is an enticing read for fans of the paranormal who may be a little burnt out on paranormal romances. This book is something else entirely, and is refreshingly different.