April 2, 2012

Review: The Name of the Star

I follow Maureen Johnson on Twitter because her tweets are so clever. When I saw this on the B&N shelf, I picked it up because it's Maureen Johnson, which means it must be awesome, right? RIGHT!

Summary (from book jacket):

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 work of Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888.

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 with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, what is he planning to do about her?

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.

My Thoughts:

[Insert standing ovation] No, seriously. The last sentence above does not lie - I was on the edge of my seat for most of this novel. The level of suspense she creates had my heart pounding louder than Rory's after she discovered who the mysterious man really was.

The plot of this novel was clever and worth every word. Readers are thrust into modern London, and modern communication. The sensational coverage of "Rippermania" speaks the truth of the vulturistic nature of modern media and modern society. After all, this is about the re-creation of the Jack the Ripper murders, and many are having parties while awaiting news of the next victim. 

Johnson takes care with the pacing of the plot as well, building the suspense chapter by chapter, page by page, word by word. She reveals just enough to keep the reader wanting to turn the page without ruining what is to come. While I found elements of the plot predictable - I picked out the killer pretty quickly - I found that it helped ease the tension that she was building throughout. After all, I am a bit of a fraidy cat, so I need writers like Johnson to "take it easy" on me while reading, and she does just that without sacrificing the level of creepiness that needs to be present. This speaks volumes of her writing craft.

As far as characters, I loved all of them! The development of each one suited his/her level of involvement with the plot itself. There was not a single character that I felt should have been developed a bit more thoroughly. I loved our heroine, Rory, and her down-to-earth appeal, but for me it was the minor characters that stole the show. This book would not be what it is without them. It's rare that the minor characters play such an important role in a novel, but in this one they do. Maybe I shouldn't call them minor characters for this reason, but I will because they aren't the star. They just steal the limelight.

Of all the characters, I have to say the killer is my favorite. There was just something about this character that I really connected with - not because I'm homicidal and plan to re-create the vicious murders of people - but because Johnson allows readers to understand the motive. Sometimes when I read mystery novels, authors forget that readers are not only invested in the heroines of the novel but also the villains, and I am left hanging without understanding a true motive. I was invested in this villain for sure, and I appreciate that he/she is given a chance to come full circle before the novel's conclusion...or is he/she?

Overall, I recommend this novel to everyone who (1) likes a good mystery, (2) likes a good story, and (3) wants to be creeped out as he/she is exiting the gym in the dark after reading said novel (not that that happened to me).

Kudos to Maureen Johnson for not only enticing me into a well-done mystery but also for giving me a novel to discuss with my students while reading "Why We Crave Horror Movies" by Stephen King. He alludes to Jack the Ripper in the piece, and it's great to be able to grab onto a YA novel and say, "Now in this novel..." Anything that gets my kids to read for fun, on purpose, and like it makes me smile, and I am always looking for YA novels that connect with pieces I teach in order to prove to students that what I teach is important and relevant, not matter how hard they want to fight it.

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