Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

I have been a fan of Maureen Johnson's books for a while. She is a great writer for the YA (and adult) reader. Her characters are quirky, but have heart. Her books are humorous, but have depth and substance. And, of course, everyone knows that I am an Anglophile. Imagine my incredible glee when I learned that Johnson's newest book was one that was set in London and had at its center the Jack the Ripper murders. The Name of the Star is the first in the Shades.

Rory Deveaux is an American teen from New Orleans who is spending her senior year at a London boarding school, Wexford, because her lawyer parents have taken jobs at Bristol University. As she arrives, she hears on the radio the startling report that a Jack the Ripper copycat has surfaced and is committing murders. Wexford is located in the Whitechapel section of London, the scene of the Ripper murders. Although the school is acutely aware of the situation and does all that it can do to protect the students, Rory and her roommate, Jazza, circumvent the rules and find themselves on the school green after a murder. Rory proves to be the only witness to The Ripper despite the fact that her roommate was by her side. Something is definitely strange about the encounter as Rory learns from The Shades of London, a secret ghost police. She becomes a credible witness and meets those whom she hopes will help her. Will she be also pursued by the copycat now that she has seen his face. To whom can she turn for help?

The story is incredibly suspenseful and downright creepy. In spite of the gore of the story,  Johnson does not lose her gift of embracing the humorous side of a situation. We read of Rory's often wacky extended family, her commentary on adjusting to life in London, and her take on boarding school. What do you mean flip-flops are not an option? The reader is treated to a tour of Whitechapel, Spitalfields, the Ten Bells, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the ghostly underground Tube stations. And of course there is teen romance, too. Add Jerome to the mix and you have all the makings of what should be a popular book and series.  I couldn't believe the last line of the book was really the last. There had to be more, but there wasn't. The wait is on.

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