Saturday, 22 October 2011

Book Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

First published in Great Britain: 29th September 2011
By: HarperCollins Children's Books 

Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux flies to London for the start of a new life at boarding school. But her arrival is overshadowed by the sudden outbreak of brutal murders, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific work of Jack the Riper.

'Rippermania' grabs hold of London, and the police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory has seen their prime suspect on the school grounds. But her friend Jazza didn’t see anyone.

So why could only Rory see him? And what is he planning to do next?

In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense and romance, Rory discovers the secrets of London and the truth about her own shocking abilities, as Jack the Ripper returns...

My review:

Maureen Johnson is best known for writing contemporary YA and, although The Name of the Star is a paranormal thriller, it still felt like a contemp novel to me. Yes, there's a homicidal ghost loose in London, but everything else seemed grounded and naturalistic: When Rory arrives in London, she makes neither a BFF or a mortal enemy, rather, there are tentative new friendships and some small conflicts. Rory's romance in this book is not the epic, star-crossed love story you often find in paranormal YA, but the kind of awkward fooling around real teens do. I found it refreshing and more interesting to see realistic adolescents depicted in this kind of story.

Thinking back, all my favourite moments in the book took place in the 'normal' world. I really liked Rory's character, in fact, by the end of the book, I flat-out loved her. The parts which describe her adjusting to life at her new school, Wexford, are very funny, as are a lot of her mental asides and observations. There's also a Spice Girls joke/bit that cracked me up completely.

The book as whole is very readable - it hooks you from the start with a discovered body, and stays pretty engaging throughout. When the characters (and all of London) are waiting for the Ripper to strike, it definitely has that horror movie thing going on; it's very tense and scary and if you are reading it home alone, you will jump at every noise. 

However, the ghost-y parts of the story were where the book became just OK for me. I think this is a personal thing: I just don't believe in ghosts at all and don't find them scary, so I couldn't feel the tension and danger after that point. I don't know what it is about ghosts, because obviously I don't believe in vampires, werewolves or demons, either! But that's just how it is and I was disappointed that there wasn't a flesh-and-blood killer. I also thought the reveal of the villain and his backstory was not that original or interesting, but something I've seen many times before.

Still, I want to read the following books. Although the central Big Bad doesn't appeal to me, the characters, Rory's life at Wexford and her new team of ghost-hunters, all do. I'm intrigued as to what, after the Ripper murders, Johnson will use for inspiration next. And I'd just like to spend time with Rory again.

Rating: 3.5 stars


  1. I won this in a giveaway and have felt a little odd about it - I guess it's the Jack the Ripper thing that does it for me. But I think I need to pick it ASAP after reading your review. :) Spice Girls yeeeeah! :D

    Liza @ Book Crook Liza

  2. Book Crook Liza - You win more giveaways than other other person in the world! :-D Glad you liked the review.

  3. So tell me what you want, what you really really want!

    Seriously. One of my favourite interchanges in a recent book. Maureen Johnson kills me.

    I missed the boarding school bits after the storyline moved away from them too. It was just so well-done!

  4. Emily - Yes! That was hilarious. And I was on public transport at the time, so I got some strange looks. I also loved the answer to what happened to Baby Spice.

  5. I liked this book too! I thought the beginning was a bit slow, but it picked up about a third of the way in. I normally don't read "scary" books, and like you, jumped at EVERY noise while I was reading those parts. I'm looking forward to the next one!


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