I was so excited to receive The Name of the Star
: It is by Maureen Johnson! It is set in London! There are ghosts and boarding schools and it has Jack-the-Ripper! Even with my insanely high expectations, Johnson came through with a book that I really
enjoyed. The thing I found most fascinating about The Name of the Star
is the way Johnson manages to defy classification at every turn. The storyline is both character-driven and plot-driven. It starts out with a relaxed pace that allows the reader to get to know the characters, Wexford, and London, then slowly builds to the fast paced, mystery-solving action in the last third of the book. There are ghosts and magic-infused ghost zappers, so The Name of the Star is clearly paranormal fantasy. There are murders that must be solved before the murderer gets our heroine!
, which makes it a thrilling mystery. Despite this, though, The Name of the Star
always reads like a contemporary young adult novel--just, you know, with extras. It is funny and zany and suspenseful.
Johnson did a wonderful job of writing a London in which someone from the UK would actually recognize. (Way too many American authors think that they can make a book "British" by making everyone talk like Rupert Grint.) She has a diverse cast of characters that show how greatly accents, slang, style, food preferences, etc., can vary for different neighborhoods of London, not to mention regions of the UK! Wexford also felt authentic. (As a former student at a residential school, let me tell you, most people don't get it right!) I actually attended a two-year school myself; I could not imagine how awkward it would have been for someone to come in senior year. Likewise, (though my husband and I were both Community Leaders--our versions of prefects--and were very cool
, ahem) we had our fair share of obnoxiously overachieving Charlottes. And my "call me Claudia" RM pushed band, not field hockey. I also like how, once they were introduced, the paranormal aspects of the story slipped right in to the setting with which we had grown so familiar.
I particularly like Rory's honesty as a character; not in the "always tell the truth" sort of honesty, but in the "always be who you really are" sort of honesty. Johnson does an excellent job of making her both a believable teenager and
heroine. Sure, she likes a good make-out session, but not when the murderer is hot on the trail. Romance is just one part of her life, and not the most important one at present. Rory is smart and southern; girly and strong. As Kaethe
put it in her review
, "Rory is a direct descendant of Buffy."
I have two minor quibbles which detracted from my overall enjoyment of the novel. They seem more like problems with me
than the book itself, but they are what kept this from being 5-star perfect. 1) This is the first book I have read from Maureen Johnson since I started following her on twitter. While I still enjoyed her witty humor, the characters felt a little less like individuals to me: I could hear the echo of Johnson herself in them. 2) As a southern myself, I felt like Johnson's portrayal of Rory, her family, and her life in Louisiana was at times a bit too much
. It sometimes slipped out of quirky into...not quite insulting, but definitely enough to make me feel prickly. They reinforce some stereotypes that are not always looked at quite as positively as the other characters in The Name of the Star
come to think of Rory. Despite those quibbles, though, I still really, really enjoyed The Name of the Star
, and can't wait for The Madness Underneath
Thank you Rhi