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Brunch Book Club Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

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13595639The day that Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school is also the day a series of brutal murders breaks out over the city, killings mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper spree 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–the only one who can see him.

And now Rory has 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 lived in London for a number of years. Each time someone came to visit, I would recommend the excellent London Walks walking tour company. They had walks to fit every interest and personality for less than a tenner, and were an interesting and fun way to learn more about the city while getting a view of the tiny streets and alleys. One of the most popular tours for people to take was the “Jack the Ripper Walk” – I must have taken that tour at least a dozen times with various friends and family over the years, and it still never fails to chill me to the bone.

You can understand, then, why I was looking forward to this month’s read with both excitement (yay! a subject that fascinates me!) and some trepidation (um … will she do it justice?). Luckily for me, Maureen Johnson is a skilled writer to is able to take the familiar story and twist it enough to make something new and fresh out of it that kept me fully engaged the whole way through.

Through the eyes of Rory, our American-in-London protagonist, we learn more about settling into a London boarding school (a school, I’d like to point out, that sees about the same level of death as Hogwarts in the early books – should the ministry be consulted about this?). Rory begins to find her place at the school, including making friends with her roommate, Jazza, who becomes a wonderful counterpoint for Rory. Her ongoing body-crunching inability to play hockey adds some welcome humour to the story, and it was a joy to read a book with a character who WASN’T perfect at everything. Additionally, she remains a newcomer for the whole book – bliss to find a character who remains quirky and different from the others and remains that way, because that’s what happens in life.

I liked how the Ripper storyline was introduced as almost an afterthought, and how it slowly built up and became more and more prominent in Rory’s life. It was truly creepy to realize just exactly what was going on, and how Rory was connected, and I applaud Johnson for her build-up of suspense. It held me captive for the entire ride to New York – no mean feat!

While I’m not entirely sure that I’m on board with how Rory got her abilities, I absolutely loved the trio of Stephen, Boo and Callum, and I’m hoping that the piece of paper mentioned at the end of the book is just a piece of paper for Shades #2 (sorry to be cryptic, but I am trying to avoid major spoilers).

The twists and turns were well laid out and the descriptions of the settings were incredibly realistic. I’d swear that I’ve been in the alleys and pubs and apartments described, and that the boarding school was actually my uni residence for a while. It was lovely to fall into the world that Rory is discovering, and to find it treated as a place to live instead of a list of tourist “to do” items.

Some of the plot points were easy to see (Boo, Alistair), but most of them were completely out of left field for me, including the identity of the Ripper. The ending was fast-paced and kept me right on the edge, and I’m already trying to figure out when I can swing by to pick up book two in the series. More Rory, please!!

Overall, I’d rate this story a 4/5, with a possible 4.5 for the snark and enjoyment found within. Can’t wait to talk about this one at book club!

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Categorised in: Readalong, Reviews

2 Responses »

  1. I read this way back when it first came out and I didn’t write a review so my memories of it are a little fuzzy. I remember enjoying it, and thinking that Johnson really brought London to life within the story, but I also remember feeling like the odd one out because I didn’t LOVE it the way everyone else seemed to. It was an interesting and well written story but not a huge stand out for me.

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