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Review: The Name of the Star

August 4, 2011

Title: The Name of the Star
Author: Maureen Johnson
Publisher: Putnam (Penguin)
Pages: 370
Release Date: September 27, 2010
Format: ARC from Fire & Ice (Thank you so much!)

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.—Goodreads

It’s no secret that I have a ginormous crush on Miss Maureen Johnson and all of her wacky awesomeness. It’s also not a secret that I haven’t necessarily loved her books in the past.

The Name of the Star changes that.

Y’all. This book is GREAT. And I’m not just saying that because I like the author so dang much. I’m saying it because I’d be reading and I’d put the book down and think “Holy Buddha, this book is good.” And then I’d text people or tweet and then go back to reading. And then I realized I was getting close to the end, and I couldn’t put the book down because I was glued to it, but I didn’t want to finish. It was an issue. But finish it I did. And let me just say . . . it is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.

So here’s why I liked it, in LIST FORMAT. Because I like lists.

1. Rory Deveaux
Rory is joining the ranks of female main characters whom I super like. She’s funny and confident and has a quirky-ass sense of humor. For example, instead of getting embarrassed or feeling awkward when a snobby girl insinuates in front of a bunch of people that Rory is out of her league at Wexford, the British boarding school she enrolls in, Rory plays up her Louisiana accent and sarcastically quips about how she’s never owned a pair of shoes before. I would have NEVER done that at seventeen. Hell, I probably wouldn’t have the lady balls to do that now. Anyway. She’s awesome and I luff her.

2. Jazza’s Pink Piggy Mug
So, Jazza is Rory’s roommate at Wexford, and she is the epitome of what I think a sweet, quiet British girl would be like. She is studious and serious and loves Jane Austen. And she has many tea mugs, including a pink piggy one. I like that one the mostest.

3. The Boys
Okay, so as in any YA novel, (also, anything EVER) there are boys. Namely, Jerome, Stephen, and Callum. But the boys in this really take a back seat to Miss Rory and, of course, the legacy of Jack the Ripper. I actually really liked that about this book. The book isn’t a romance—it’s about a girl and what she knows and how that knowledge is going to perhaps get her killed. Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t funny or sweet or touching moments throughout the novel—there definitely are—but those things are used for comedic or romantic relief from the super tense and creepy moments. So. Hooray for boys, but also hooray for them not being distracting.

4. The Use of Society’s Obsession with the Macabre
So, I think part of being human is being fascinated by sick, twisted, horrifying things. It’s something that is both disturbing and terrifying, but it’s still true. I think it’s a coping mechanism—the only way we know how to process sick, twisted, horrifying things is to learn as much as we can about them so that we can maybe understand them.

Anyway, Johnson uses this sick facet of human nature and does a superb job both exploiting and explaining it. She captures the fear, paranoia, obsession, and disbelief that society feels when a deranged serial killer in on the loose, both in the past and in present day. She also does a great job describing the ways people might “cope” with those situations—there’s lots of sitting around TVs and theorizing and drinking and making light of it all and trying to capitalize on Rippermania by selling cheap baubles and merchandise to tourists. And there’s also a lot of freaking out. Because this is a creepy book. *grins*

5. The Research
Johnson did her homework on what London was like in 1888, when the original Ripper was terrorizing Whitechapel and uses it in a way that informs the plot, but doesn’t weigh it down. She adds in details and suspense that is so vivid it feels real—you feel like you’re watching the CCTV surveillance or walking through the streets with the characters instead of just reading about them.

But it isn’t just the historical research that’s impressive—it’s the way Johnson conveys her knowledge of being an American in London. Although Rory is quirky and funny and fun, she’s still a fish out of water. On several occasions Johnson mentions that Rory’s British friends talk about TV shows or celebrities that Rory has never heard of, or they use phrases or colloquialisms that have to be explained to her. Though it’s not a huge part of the book, it happens just enough to make Rory and her world all that more believable.

You know else I like about this book? Everything.

This is by far my favorite book by Johnson—it’s the perfect balance of creepy and funny. But more importantly, it’s really, really well-written and well-edited and well-researched. And. Yeah. It’s damn good.

I can’t wait to get my finished copy so I can read it AGAIN.

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