November 26, 2012

Monday Review: THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson

Hardback cover
Reader Gut Reaction: As I often am with Maureen Johnson's work, I was immediately drawn in by the premise of this book—a teenager from the U.S. whose family leaves for England, so she decides to live and go to school in London—because of my own experience living in London as a college student. So I enjoyed this book for its nostalgia-inspiring setting. But I also enjoyed the, erm, RIP-roaring mystery and suspense aspects of the story: not long after Rory (short for Aurora) arrives in London, a series of Jack-the-Ripper-copycat murders start to occur. We all know Jack the Ripper targeted young women. Even scarier, the murders are taking place not far from where she lives, and the police aren't finding much in the way of clues or leads.

Then something inexplicable happens: Rory spots someone who might be the suspect. But nobody else saw him. Why is that? And is she in danger? I don't want to give away too many spoilers, so I'll just say that this is a spooky, suspenseful mystery with plenty of atmospheric London locales, a hint of romance, and a whole lot of freaky happenings. And it's only Book One…

Concerning Character: Rory is a likeable combination of grounded in herself yet also looking to find out more about who she is—she's practical and smart, but not so smart that she doesn't get into trouble from time to time, and of course, it's trouble that makes for a good story, isn't it? She's from Louisiana originally, but the author does a good job of not making Rory a stereotypical Southerner, just reminding us from time to time with gentle hints or memories from Rory's life before. Mostly, in contrast with her new London classmates, she's just terribly AMERICAN, and plenty of things get lost in translation. It doesn't mean she's friendless, however, or boyfriendless, and her allies (some of them in VERY unexpected places) end up being vital to saving her life.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Suspenseful thrillers with a supernatural element, like Scott Westerfeld's Midnighters books, Lisa McMann's Wake etc., or anything by Lois Duncan. Also, fans of stories set in London, like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

paperback cover
Themes & Things: Being a mystery, this is a very plot-driven story, but no story is complete without some driving themes no matter how plot-driven it is. In this one, we're following Rory through a rather dramatic life transition, from living at home and going to high school like a normal American teenager to taking up residence at a London boarding school; coming of age in this story, however, means not only gaining independence and learning what to do with it, but also learning some unexpected things about herself and having to decide what to do with THAT, too. And then there's the friendship and romance—how well does she really know these people after only a few months? And how much should she tell them about the strange things that keep happening around her?

Cover Chatter: The hardback cover is just SO far superior to the paperback. That ghostly, Victorian daguerreotype-ish Jack the Ripper in the background is fantastically creepy, as is the "is she sleeping or dead?" girl in the foreground. The paperback cover is a bit more generic—I probably wouldn't pick it up on its own.

Review Copy Source: Library.

You can find The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson online, or at an independent bookstore near you!


Jessica said...

I loved Name of the Star, so thanks for reviewing it! It's funny, though, I *hate* the hardback cover - it seems terribly tacky and cheesy! I don't like the paperback all that much either, though at least neither of them have the headless girls that Johnson was stuck with for a while.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Oh, ha! Differing tastes. But yes, very glad to see a trend away from headless girls!!

Thanks for coming by and commenting!

Maegan Langer said...

I've had this book on my to-read list for an embarrassingly long time. The hard cover design is what grabbed my attention, and then when I read what it was about, I knew it would be right up my alley. After reading this review, I'm even MORE anxious to get my paws on it!