Author: Maureen Johnson
Publication Date: 9/29/11
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Blurb (GR): The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London, it's the start of a new life at a 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.
The Name of the Star is a novel with a great premise but bogged down by a very mediocre writing.
American teen Aurora (Rory) Deveaux is spending her senior year in London. Her parents work in nearby Bristol and Rory is all set to live and study at a boarding school. On the day of her arrival to London she learns that there is a brutal murderer on the loose. This murderer appears to be mimicking Jack the Ripper - his first victim was sliced and diced in exactly the same manner as the Ripper's in 1888. More murders happen in the neighborhood of Rory's school, and one day she crosses paths with the killer. The strange thing is, she seems to be the only person able to see him. Rory soon discovers that she possesses an ability to see ghosts and is eager to assist the ghost police of London in its search for the serial killer.
Jack the Ripper's case is a truly fascinating and gruesome one. Johnson does a respectable job incorporating the details of the crimes in her story without shying away from the gore - cut-off noses, bowels and heads - it is all here!
What is not so great is Johnson's writing. The Name of the Star is the author's 9th book (I think), but it often read like a debut. It is full of mistakes that an experienced writer should not be making any more.
Boring, vanilla characters (all of them, except the villain, are like that BTW) and far too long and indulgent HP-fanfic-like boarding school minutiae aside, I think every YA author should know by now that creating a mean girl as a heroine's arch-nemesis is overdone. In this book I could never figure out why this certain girl (head girl - I am sure you remember those from Harry Potter series) was hated so much. She never does anything bad, except she is quite determined to be accepted into Oxford and is very proactive and school-oriented. What is wrong with that? Can we stop bashing overachievers already?
Then there are absent parents. Murders are happening all around the boarding school (one in its yard!), but the main character's supposedly caring parents don't bat an eye and do not bother to withdraw Rory from school.
Or when Rory reports to the police about possibly seeing the murderer, they let her out without asking her not disclose this information to anyone and she goes out and right away blabs it out to the media.
And my main pet peeve is that the villain, if you think of it, does not really have a reason to murder all these people.
All these things in themselves are not bad enough to make the reading experience unbearable or reprehensible. But why weren't these laps in logic corrected? Or am I nitpicking? Maybe I should just stop reading kids' books?
On the bright side, although The Name of the Star is the first book in a trilogy, I have to compliment the author on the ending. Although the last page is slightly cliff-hangery, the book can easily be read as a stand-alone. The case is closed, the characters are in a good place. It is what you'd call a respectful cliff-hanger. I will not be coming back for more of Maureen Johnson's books, so it was nice to have a closure.