YA Book Review: ‘The Name of the Star’ by Maureen Johnson
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
|Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads|
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.
When it was released, this book seemed to cause quite a stir and wherever the cover appeared, a deluge of praise wasn’t too far behind. And so it was with high expectations that I finally started reading The Name of the Star on the plane to America. It was with high expectations that I read through the first few chapters and the first gory appearance of an apparent victim of Jack the Ripper. As the chapters went by, those expectations held until I realised that I was about half way through and was still expecting something great, rather than reading something great.
It isn’t that The Name of the Star was bad, rather that it was an average book labouring under the weight of my lofty expectations. The first third or so of the book is less devilish paranormal thriller and more angsty teen drama. Rory is great as far as teenage girls go and imbues her story with a healthy dose of sarcasm and wit. She was charming and fun and I loved reading her American perceptions of England (because yes, it really is that cold, even to those of us who live here…) but in the end, she’s a teenage girl at boarding school, mostly with teenage-girl-at-boarding-school problems. Once upon a time, I would have gladly swallowed up the proof that I wasn’t the only one who worried about fitting in, finding friends and kissing boys. At 26, I found myself struggling to connect. I mean, sure, I’ve been kept awake until midnight trying to write that perfect text that demonstrates everything that makes me good in 160 characters as much as the next girl, but now? *shrugs and feels old*
Fortunately, scattered throughout Rory’s boarding school trials and tribulations are some pretty gory murders. Johnson does a tremendous job of describing a London gripped by fear and confusion and I particularly liked how she highlighted the role of the media frenzy in creating and sustaining hysteria. There are occasionally very small chapters told from the perspective of a relevant expert (an expert in the history of Jack the Ripper and the woman that designed the CCTV system that fails to catch the current killer etc.) and I wish that there had been more of them. For better or worse, there is something morbidly fascinating about the Victorian menace and I would have enjoyed The Name of the Star if more had been made of the historical aspects that were often mentioned in passing.
Much though I don’t relish descriptions of disembowelments, it was a shame when the tense atmosphere was shattered. I won’t say too much more (because it’s really hard to without getting spoiler-y) but ultimately I came away feeling disappointed that such a superb idea eventually became quite generic, lacklustre romantic sub-plot and all: A serial killer seemingly mimicking Jack the Ripper is on the loose: what do you do? Why, break out of the apparently safe building that you’re in and sneak around in the dark to see a boy that you barely know, of course! REALLY, RORY?! Really.
Overall: Sort of recommended to the older end of the YA market – I don’t doubt that I would have loved this when I was a teenager and going through a Point Horror phase and eagerly awaited the next instalment, The Madness Underneath, set for release in March 2013. As it is, I probably won’t be seeking it out because I’m not hugely fond of the direction that the series looks to be going in but if someone could let me know how things pan out, that’d be swell.
Date finished: 24 September 2012
Genre: YA fiction; Paranormal fiction; Thrillers
Pictured edition published: by Harper Collins in September 2011