Friday, April 6, 2012

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson is not the type of book I normally read. I don't usually go in for ghost stories. This one is also a British boarding school story though. And a murder mystery involving murders that follow the exact same pattern as the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders. I do go in for British boarding school stories and murder mysteries. This combination had an irresistible pull on me despite the potential I knew it had to be a disastrous mix. It is not disastrous though, and this book was exactly what I needed to entertain me in the midst of a weekend of sick children.

Synopsis (from author's website):
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.

Rory is a likable heroine. She is smart, but not brilliant. She worked and studied hard to earn her position at her boarding school and she has to work and study hard in order to keep up once she gets there. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing through her the excitement and fears of her situation. I sympathized with her utter lack of enthusiasm or coordination in sports. Her adjustment to living in a different country and, in her last year of high school, learning a completely different educational system are told in a honest, realistic, and sympathetic way. Rory has a wonderful sense of humor even when things don't work out the way she imagined them in her head. Going along with her on this adventure was not at all difficult.

In fact I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

The story is by turns funny (laugh out loud-earn strange looks from the family funny), creepy, and mysterious. Johnson did a splendid job conveying the mood of each scene and setting them  up. It is clear she put a lot of thought into the ghost police and the way they work. I really loved all three: Stephen, Boo, and Callum. The way in which Rory gains her ability is so absurd that it is easy to go along with. The book hits a fine balance between the subject matter and never taking itself too seriously. There is also an interesting underlying social commentary about our modern times.

But pretty much it is just good fun.

There were a couple of elements that bothered me. The villain is allowed to do quite a bit of monologuing at the end, which had me wanting to yell at the heroes to JUST DO SOMETHING. Although I can also see why they would want to hear what he had to say for himself. I could have done without the romantic interest. I felt the story was compelling enough without him,, and he was by far the least interesting character.

If you find yourself in the mood for an entertaining and mysterious read that is by turns funny and thrilling I highly recommend it.  I will most definitely be picking up the next book in the series when it comes out.

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