Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review: The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star

By Maureen Johnson

Format: eBook, 372 pgs

Genre: YA paranormal

Series: Shades of London #1

Recommendation: Oh hell yeah. Quirky, funny, suspenseful—a great ride for young adults and adults alike.

Synopsis: 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.

First Sentence:  The eyes of London were watching Claire Jenkins.

My Thoughts and Summary: I read this book about a year and a half ago, and before reading (and reviewing) the sequel, I wanted to read it again to refresh my memory.

Initially, I had no idea what to expect when I first read The Name of the Star—some kind of YA murder mystery with paranormal elements? Truthfully, I follow Maureen Johnson on Twitter (if you don’t already, get to it) and she’s hilarious, so when her new book came out, it seemed like a great time to try out her work without even reading the blurb.

I think I was expecting a Jack the Ripper sort of tale, but that’s not what this is; Ripper is the reader’s gate into this world of ghosts and the people who hunt them, and grows from there.

As usual, the review will be spoiler-free.

The Name of the Star has Johnson’s distinct voice and brand of humor. Rory is immediately likable (I very, very rarely use that adjective to describe a character, but it’s true) and makes for a very pleasant narrator to hang around. Example:

Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.

I giggled. A lot. The suspense is ever-present—there is a serial killer on the loose, killing people in quite gruesome ways—but having Rory along for the ride makes the book an easy read, I think, for even the most squeamish, horror-adverse people. She has anecdotes about her life back home, loves Cheez Whiz, and manages to be funny without the snark/sarcasm a lot of people have grown weary of.

The cast of secondary characters is populated with more likable kids, all well-drawn with distinct voices. All are English, except for American Rory, and that comes across in the dialogue without a lot of irritating dialect. The author spent time in England, and while I have not, I feel it comes across quite clearly—the history and the feel of London is very much its own character in the book, and feels entirely authentic.

Another highlight of the book is that the kids really feel like teenagers. Not teenagers as adults think they are, but real kids. The Name of the Star also offers a strong alternative to the popular YA paranormal narrative that your first boyfriend must be the be all, end all of everything, and True Love Forever™ with a heavy dose of Drama and Angst™. Guess what? Girls meet boys (sorry for the heteronormative speak) who are cute and nice, and there can be some cuddling and kissing, and it doesn’t have to result in them getting married and having babies at the end. And I loved that about this book—that one day I can happily give it to my yet-to-be-conceived daughter without feeling like I need to have a long conversation afterward about Disney Princess culture and tying yourself forever to someone when you’re only seventeen.

Also, for parents: there’s some kissing, no sex, no bad language, and most of the violence happens off-screen—it’s read about or sometimes described, but the horror comes from the tension and suspense and not really the gore. It would be appropriate for fourteen-year-olds and up, and depending on the teen, younger. (I read adult books when I was ten, so I am not the best judge here—if you’re unsure, read them yourself first.)

While the book does not end on a cliffhanger, the main storyline wraps up with plenty of threads for future installments. The sequel, The Madness Underneath, is already out and I’ll be reviewing it shortly.

At times some of the twists and reveals seem a little predictable, and I’m not sure if that’s just me or would be the same with most readers, but while that’s normally a trait that would have me put a book down immediately, in the case of this one I didn’t care. I loved Rory, I loved the supporting characters, and I had a blast with the story and its world.

Bitchstress Bechdel Bonus: Does it pass the Bechdel Test? It does! Effortlessly and at every turn.

Disclaimer: I purchased and read this book for my own enjoyment.


  1. Oh Skyla. Now I think I really do need this one. I really like the blend here with the mystery. And as a YA? Wow. Thank you!

    1. Oh Mel, it's so delightful. If you don't follow Maureen on Twitter, do so--her tweets will give you a great sample of her voice.

  2. Replies
    1. I hope you get a chance to check it out, I really enjoyed it!

  3. It passes the test! Yes! Oh and this sounds fab. I've been wanting to read it, but just haven't gotten to it. I don't mind some predictability, but glad to know it is there beforehand. Thanks for the review.

    1. YES, in fact, not only is it Bechdel-friendly, but another thing I loved is that there are multiple female friendships that are healthy and show teen girls who aren't in backstabbing catfights all the time (there's the requisite Mean Girl, but even she's not all that mean). Refreshingly normal characters who are distinct and a bit quirky.

      It's great fun and a testament to the writing that I figured I knew where things were going but still found it suspenseful and engaging.

  4. I only read one book by this author, but I really enjoyed that one. Sounds interesting! & I love the different covers, I really do.

  5. oh yes we also have this book in French and during a period I saw it everywhere. I ,haven't read it yet but I confess I'm really curious!


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