The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

I have confessed to you, dear readers, of the disorder that plagues me. I suffer from an unchecked, rampant case of Anglophilia. I may be using that wrong, I may have made that word up, as it sounds a little bit like I want to have relations with dead English people, but basically, I lose control of my bladder at the sound of an English accent. And it doesn’t stop there. The words “London” “The Strand” “The West End” or anything remotely like “Buckingham” produces twitches and uncontrollable eavesdropping. If I don’t watch a period drama at least once a month, I get bonnet withdrawal. But enough of my incurable condition. The only reason I brought it up is because of Maureen Johnson’s most excellent novel, set in … drumroll please…. LONDON, ENGLAND. Not only that, but in the West End, the locale made famous for its theatrical productions, and the rampage of Jack the Ripper. Even better – this book has to do with the Ripper crimes – or rather with the same crimes being committed in modern day. But let me give you the link and the blurb.

the name of the star

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.

I really enjoyed this. Some people think it’s an automatic Potter ripoff if the kid is in boarding school, and in England, no less, but Johnson’s approach is totally different. Even after reading the Potter series, I really had no idea what living in a boarding school was like. I guess everyone in England knows. Here in America, boarding school has a bad rap. I don’t know – maybe the elite back in the Ivy League states send their kids to them, but I do not know a single human who went to boarding school. She introduces us to the refrigerator in the tea room, getting ready in the morning with dozens of other girls, when and what they eat, and the crazy class schedules, that I thought were part of a Hogwarts un-usuallness, are apparently a real thing.

Just as we are getting settled in, the terror in the city is starting to ramp up. Someone is re-creating the Ripper murders, and somehow, avoiding the surveillance cameras that blanket the city. Everyone is screaming bloody murder (bad pun) and complaining about the failure. Then the truth is revealed: the cameras caught the murder, but not the perpetrator. dun dun dunnn! The murders are being done in exactly the same way and on the same dates as the original Ripper murders – so the police know when the Ripper will strike. The only difference is the locations – so the entire city is on tenterhooks when a Ripper date approaches. Johnson does a great job of amping up the tension. She also slowly unveils the change that has taken over Rory: she develops the ability to see ghosts. And she’s possibly seen the man who the CCTV couldn’t catch! When the police get wind of this, a rather rock-n-roll looking officer asks her a bunch of questions. She learns she’s not the only one who can see people others can’t. As a matter of fact, there is a secret police force made up of people with this ability, who specialize in dealing with troublesome ghosts.

Johnson is great at creating the atmosphere of the West End, the boarding school, and has a totally adorable main character. I really like Rory. She shows up to her new boarding school a few days early. The only other people who are there are the prefects. She goes to her room to settle in and try on her uniform – then the head girl is sent to bring her down for dinner. She asks if she should change out of her uniform, and the head girl says, “Oh, don’t bother.” Well. She should have listened to her gut. Everyone in the dining room is wearing t shirts and jeans and looks at her with that mixture of shock and pity that an established group always gives an outsider. Rory quickly tells everyone that she loves her uniform. She’s going to wear it all the time. The girl has sass. The good kind.

I’m not really a YA reader. There’s usually some way the author has to find to avoid sending their characters to school, or making it about sending their characters to school, avoiding parental involvement, or simply killing the parents off. Reading books with those two problems again and again can get boring. Besides that, I hated high school. I don’t care to revisit it. It brings on nightmares. However –  if you give me an English setting and Jack and Ripper I’ll find a way to deal with it. I liked how little bits of Ripper lore made it into the story – something anyone with an interest in Ripperology would be intrigued by.

But it’s not perfect. A couple of things that bothered me: the abrupt dumping of the very sweet roommate with the ridiculous name of “Jazza”. Another thing I didn’t like: the name Jazza.  The roommate is such an important part of Rory fitting in to this English boarding situation, then the plot gets going and the roommate was clearly in the way. Sort of the same thing with a boy.(sorry – spoiler alert) She has a makeout session with him, but no real squishy feelings for him. I wish that would have been resolved or ended. And about that parent problem – in this one, the author chose to make them complete non-entities. Rory sees a murder suspect, is being protected by the police, and doesn’t call mom n dad? But she regaled her English friends with stories about her weird relatives back home all the time. I guess she liked her weird relatives better than her parents.

Anyway – I do recommend this. I really want to read the next one, but I’ve sworn to chill out with the book buying. I’ve downloaded so many freebies thanks to the Goodreads Apocalypse Whenever group, and I feel terrible that I never read them. You may get a lot of dystopian and zombie books in the next few months, as I start to make my way through them.

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