The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Hardcover: 372 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: 29 Sept 2011
Age Level: Young Adult
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound
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 was pleasantly surprised by this book. I had just finished reading The Last Little Blue Envelope by the same author, which was very good, by the way. After reading the summary on the jacket, I knew this was going to be pretty different from her blue envelope duo, but I didn't realize it was going to be so different. I admittedly have little experience with Maureen's writing (I always find it odd to refer to authors by their last names, don't you?)
My library has this book labeled as "horror," but I wouldn't call it horror exactly; just a little creepy in some parts. It does deal with ghosts after all. But it isn't as if these ghosts are as crazy scary as the ones in Anna Dressed in Blood, for instance (which is also an amazing book, that I just read not too long ago).
The beginning of this book starts off with a murder, which is a great way to go, in my opinion. Maureen goes to great lengths to set up a scene where we expect one thing to happen, and then that thing totally doesn't happen, so already we're thrown through a little bit of a loop. She also puts in a not-so-subtle detail that has us scratching our heads and wondering what the heck is going on. That, my friends, is a great start to a book. By the end of the prologue I already knew I was going to read to the very end of this book as quickly as possible in order to figure out the mystery.
Sadly, I had to wait an awfully long time for the mystery to play itself out. Maureen does a good job of leading you around, but the pacing seemed off to me. The first half of the book sort of meanders and I felt like the book was going in a certain direction, but then at the halfway mark, it suddenly and without warning twists in a different direction, which I suppose might be good story telling, but for me is a little off-putting. Maybe I just like to always be in the know, but the radical change in direction made the plot seem forced and hurried at the end, not to mention missing out on some much-needed character development.
The beginning half of the book, as I said, is a bit slow. The atmosphere is heavy and a little chilling, which was great considering the subject matter. I feel it took a little too long to set up the main character's shtick, and there was a little too much emphasis on developing side characters that didn't end up doing much this book. I found myself kind of glossing over much of the goings-on in an effort to pick out the details that were actually important to the plot.
The last half of the book is very, very exciting, strange, trippy, and gut-wrenching, but it's a little bit hard to follow because a book-full of details has to be squeezed into half a book's space. As it is, the author couldn't quite give us all the pieces of the puzzle in a measured pace, and ends up compensating for that by having the villain recite a lengthy and honestly not very interesting monologue at the end. All while the heroes of the piece listen and look on as someone is dying on the ground in front of them (hope I didn't give too much away there...). It just feels very unnatural and anti-climactic. I also felt a little deprived of the chance to figure out the back-story from little hints and clues dropped throughout the novel, instead of having this big information dump literally shoved at me at the very end.
The very end of this book was a total surprise for me, and quite nicely sets up the next book (for their MUST be a second book with an ending like that). It actually kind of blew my mind. Despite some of the negative comments above, I really enjoyed this book, and would definitely recommend it if you're craving a good ghost story.
A favorite quote: "Welsh is an actual, currently used language and our next-door neighbors Angela and Gaenor spoke it. It sounds like Wizard."
Thanks go to my pally, Naomi, for her willingness to share her thoughts on The Name of the Star. What an amazing review! It makes me want to set aside my anti-scary-things fear and pick up this book! What about you?