Review: The Name of the Star

Okay. Here’s a confession. I really like Maureen Johnson as a public figure. Her Twitter is hilariously weird, and she always stands up for YA lit when people like the Wall Street Journal say dumb stuff about it. (Which I guess is in her professional interest to do.) But I’ve been a little ambivalent about the books of hers I’ve read. They’ve been clever and enjoyable, but they haven’t really grabbed me. And then, I completely misunderstood what The Name of the Star was about–I thought it was straight-up historical fiction about Jack the Ripper, and I wasn’t that excited about it.

So why did I even read it? Well… at the ALA conference, the line to get Maureen’s new book was the same as the line to get Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. And like I said, I like Maureen Johnson, I just don’t love her the way many seem to. And I think part of that is because I am not actually a teen girl, even though it might be hard to tell that just based on my GoodReads and my iTunes. She’s clearly doing something right in terms of her target audience.

Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Anyway, so, I wasn’t that excited about The Name of the Star, but I still felt cool and insider-y to have an ARC of it, so I decided I had to read it before it comes out for real (September 29th). Then I sat down and read it all in about two days because it was so good and I got so hooked!

The Name of the Star is not actually historical fiction. It’s set in modern-day London, and the protagonist is Rory Deveaux. Her parents are professors at Tulane and they are spending a year in England for some kind of professorial business (I forget and it doesn’t matter), so Rory will be doing her senior year of high school at Wexford, a boarding school in London. I really like Rory as a character. She’s funny and, I think, reacts very believably to her new situation. She’s excited to get out of small-town Louisiana. She’s a little nervous about British boarding school, but she’s armed with Google.

Shortly after Rory arrives at Wexford, there’s a shocking murder in London. It becomes clear that someone is reenacting the Jack the Ripper murders, and London goes into Ripper-mania. Personally, I have never been that excited about Jack the Ripper. I studied abroad in London and was taken aback by just how much Ripper tourism there is. I mean, really, out of all the stuff that’s from London, why go on a Ripper tour? Was the Beatles tour sold out? But I digress.  Johnson clearly did a lot of research into the Ripper and pulled up a lot of interesting details that got me a little more into Ripper-mania than I thought I would.

Rory’s friend (and crush) Jerome is into the Ripper and he starts poking around in the case. Rory tags along and quickly gets in over her head. I don’t want to say more! But I loved all the twists and turns. This book was not at all what I expected it to be, and I got really into the mystery. I loved all the fun secondary characters. And I’m already looking forward to the sequel that I assume is coming since the cover says “Book 1.” Really. Put this on your radar, even if you don’t think you like Maureen Johnson and/or Jack the Ripper and/or historical fiction and/or books. (Oh, and the title gets explained about halfway into the book. The title frankly confused me before I started reading. Don’t even worry about it. Just read it.)

I rate the Name of the Star 4.5 Haunted History Ghost Tours (out of a possible 5).

Also, permit me a moment to show off:

I can't tell if that's supposed to be "ty" (thank you), "by" (kind of obvious), "mj" (her initials?), or something else. Whatever, though. Thanks, Maureen!

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