Monday, November 21, 2011

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Pages: 384

Series or Stand Alone: Book 1 in the Shades of London series
Summary: 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 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 now 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, 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.

Maureen Johnson is quite the skilled writer. With both Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star, I wasn't sure how I felt about the books at the time I was reading them. However, once I hit the end of each novel, I realized I had been sucked into the story without realizing it. I wanted to read the next one in each series right away. Unfortunately for me, the second Shades of London book doesn't come out for quite some time. Probably like a year. As goes my entire reading life.
The Name of the Star was another missed galley for me at Book Expo. I’ve only recently started reading Maureen Johnson’s books (this past summer I read Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope) and I liked what I saw, so I decided that I wanted to read all of the books she has written (you know that problem I have with wanting to finish all the books in a series? Sometimes I have a similar problem in wanting to read an author's entire bibliography). I was especially intrigued by the newest addition to Johnson’s works, considering it involves London, a bit of history, some ghosts, and a mysterious mass murderer.
The author and the setting were the major draws for me. The book is set in London, to which the New Orleans born-and-raised Rory has recently moved. I’ve never been there, I really want to go, and due to a lack of funds, I am going to be stuck stateside for the time being. Reading about the city is as close as I’m going to get for now.
Johnson’s characters, in my limited experience, have a nice subtlety to them. They have their quirks but are not totally defined by them. They are teenagers that don’t completely devote themselves to overreacting to everything or shifting into overly strong emotions without the slightest cause. This continued to be the case in The Name of the Star. Rory Deveaux is a Southern girl that isn’t an over-stereotyped hick that has no idea what life is like in London. I liked that she did research into English life before moving, but didn’t know every little thing about London. Rory was immediately intriguing to me due to her Louisiana roots. Once again, that’s a place I want to visit one day, so reading little bits and pieces about Rory’s life there was a welcome addition to the England-based book for me. She had a fairly easygoing, daring nature that was very different from what I've been seeing lately. One thing that I wasn’t as impressed with was Rory’s willingness to lie or stretch the truth before the paranormal aspects kicked in and made it necessary. I understood after the whole ghost thing came about, but beforehand it seemed kind of bitchy to me, especially since she had the tendency to lie to Jazza simply because Jerome told her to.
My favorite characters were the Shades, the people Rory encountered that could also see the ghosts wandering London and devoted their lives to ridding the city of the more dangerous ones. Boo, Callum, and Stephen were a good team together. They were given just enough back-story into their abilities to be interesting but still mysterious, especially Stephen. I hope that Johnson explores each of them a bit more in the ensuing two books in the series.
Stop right there: I know, I know. Series. They're grating on everyone's nerves. Luckily, Johnson wrote something akin to an Agatha Christie mystery with a bit more of a pull to read the next one. The main conflict in this book is actually wrapped up within the first book (WOAH) but she pulls something at the end that made me immediately want to read the next one that of course, is not out yet. However, it's nice that I won't have to remember every detail about the first Rory Deveaux conflict when it eventually does come out. Nice one, MJ.
I’m noticing a recent trend in certain books in the young adult paranormal tradition: good ghost stories in which the ghost is either a threat or a helping hand to the main character, not an eternal one-dimensional love interest. I am one hundred percent behind this trend. It’s a refreshing change to see supernatural beings in their more traditional roles, as spiritual helpers or sources of evil rather than boring, sappy, love interests. I hope more authors start seeing how well this is going over (for examples see this book and Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore).
Johnson executed the supernatural aspect of her book perfectly. The explanation of Rory’s ability to see ghosts is just that—an explanation. Not a declaration of its existence, which is what I’ve seen in a lot of paranormal books recently. I demand explanations, damn it! I'm not just going to accept that it's just the way things are, and I'm going to judge characters who do just accept such things. Thankfully, there's none of that here.
Rory is also adequately freaked out by both her ability and its explanation. She doesn’t cry and run away pathetically, but she also doesn’t calmly accept it. She is understandably uncomfortable with this new development in her life and shows it. I dislike when protagonists are like, “Oh, gotcha. That’s why that’s happening? Oh obviously, let me just go hone this power and be on my way.” Rory’s reaction was realistic in someone facing what she previously did not consider to be a possibility, and I commend Johnson’s ability in providing an adequate response and explanation for paranormal activity.
The Name of the Star was one of those books that snuck up on me. One moment I was like, “Hmm, I’m not sure I’m going to be quite as into this one” and all of the sudden I was trying to sneak glances at the pages while I was supposed to be working. That's not an easy thing to subtly accomplish. I am very interested in what Rory’s next adventure is going to take her. Also, whether she tells Jazza about what is going on in her life. And whether she’s going to get to return to her school. And whether or not we’re going to discover more about Boo, Callum, and Stephen. Okay Johnson, you fooled me with that beginning. I’m entirely sucked in. Now when does the next book in the Shades of London series come out? I’m going to need to know.

Rating: 4 – good.

No comments:

Post a Comment