Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star
by Maureen Johnson
September 29, 2011
Bought in Hardcover
Goodreads Page
Amazon Page
Grade: A+

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London 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.

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. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory 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.

The only book of Maureen Johnson’s that I read before this was 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and my attention wasn’t really caught by that one. But between the London setting and the boarding school and the main character’s awesome name, I had to pick up The Name of the Star.  I’m so happy I did.  This book was atmospheric, suspenseful, spooky, and downright hilarious.  It’s an odd combination if you look at it that way, but trust me, it worked. 

I seriously enjoyed how Johnson began the book in a completely normal world.  Rory was concerned about moving to London, adjusting to boarding school and her roommate, dealing with classes, differing expectations, and the cold for the first third of the book with only the slightest hints of the paranormal oddness to come.  I could see where some could be annoyed by the long introduction, but I thought it did an amazing job in both setting the scene and introducing us to Rory as she is before her life is turned about.  Also it gave the author the opportunity to write some absolutely hilarious narrative sequences.  I don’t usually laugh out loud during a book, but The Name of the Star had me absolutely cackling in places.

The hints of the paranormal were introduced subtly and could easily go unnoticed, but slowly they begin to pile up until neither Rory nor the reader can ignore the evidence in front of them.  I don’t mean to imply that Rory was unobservant because I felt her slow realization was a nice touch as the completely normal girl was introduced to a world beyond the obvious.

As the ghostly storyline began to take over, we see less and less of Wexford School and the friends Rory made there.  It certainly makes sense since Rory’s focus is anywhere but on schoolwork, but I did miss the school details and Rory’s interactions with her friends and classmates.  A fair amount of the action here begins to seem implausible.  Not the actual ghost plot because that was both well-done and an interesting take on the idea.  Instead I mean the fact that the housemistress and headmaster of Wexford seem to not mind at all as Rory is taken in and out of their locked down school or that Rory’s (or the other students’) parents are completely pacified by reassurances and don’t immediately pull their children from school after a murder occurs on school grounds.

Rory was an intriguing and endearing heroine.  Her reactions to all things British were absolutely hilarious without ever crossing the fine line of mocking either Rory or British customs.  Rory’s stories about her family and life back in Louisiana also stayed on the good side of that line.  In the hands of another author, the stories could have turned into mere stereotypes or picked up a nasty or derisive quality.  Instead each of them was hilarious, gently mocking and loving. I liked that Johnson allowed her main character to be smart and resourceful enough to figure things out instead of always needing to get explanations or spoonfeeding the information to either Rory or the readers.  Managing to avoid the cliche of rushing into everything, Rory absorbs every single bit of information and then sits down to put it all together later.  The conclusions she comes to aren’t always correct but at least she thinks about her observations!

Despite not having a huge amount of face time, Rory’s classmates mostly managed to be three-dimensional characters who one could really believe lived a whole life apart from their interactions with the main character.  Jazza especially was fantastic, and every scene she appeared in made me smile or want to reassure her or just be her friend myself.  I also enjoyed Alistair in all his sullen snarkyness, Jerome and his attempted muckraking, and Charlotte the officious Head Girl.  In the interest of keeping this review as spoiler free as possible (and not violating the Official Secrets Act), I’m not going to really get into the members of the Ghost Squad, but suffice it to say that they were also fully defined and interesting characters.  I’d read a full novel about any of the secondary characters in this book - they all intrigued me that much.

I knew going in that The Name of the Star was the first book in a new series so I was pleasantly surprised to find an actual conclusion to this volume.  There’s still a hook which would make it clear another installment was coming, but the so-called A plot of the book was happily resolved.  Thankfully because I can’t take another series of cliffhangers!  I'm a little sad this book is going to be billed as a ‘paranormal romance' because the romance part is much smaller than one might expect given that description.  It's much more of a contemporary ghost story! I really was pleased that the main focus was not on what guy Rory was or wasn’t in love with though some readers may definitely prefer more swoonage in their paranormal read!

From the length of my review, you can tell how much I enjoyed this book!  It’s a talky enjoyment as opposed to utter flaily ‘I have nothing to say except squee!’ enjoyment, but I love it all the same.  I’d definitely recommend The Name of the Star to anyone looking for a new take on a ghost story, an amazing atmospheric setting, and really great characters to fall in love with. does anyone know when the second book will be coming out?


  1. I read this a couple months ago and loved it too! The paranormal aspect caught me a bit off guard, since MJ hasn't written that in the past, but I thought she did well with it. And you're totally right: the book was creepy and hilarious at the same time. Looking forward to the sequel!

  2. Okay, so I have been going back and forth, back and forth about reading this. But now I definitely will! Great review. Spooky and hilarious? I am intrigued... :)

  3. @Kyle - I totally thought this was historical fiction for a while because I wasn't really reading people's reviews, and then was totally startled by the paranormal/contemps aspect! But it was awesome. I can't wait for the next book!

    @Michelle - oh yay! I'm so glad I helped convince you because this was seriously a fun read. Enjoy!

  4. Hey! I'm your latest follower. I'm officially in love with your reviews! I really like the detail and effort that you put into them.

    I can't wait to check this one out! I honestly had no idea this was supposed to have paranormal elements until now... I feel a bit out of the loop O.o

  5. Thank you so much for the incredibly kind words! I so totally appreciate them.

    And the paranormal bits were totally a surprise to me too. I, uh, thought it was historical fiction which made the first scene in the airport a little mindbendy.

  6. I really loved this book, thanks for the rec! Why is this paranormal romance? There was no romance between the paranormal and human? Weird. I agreed with your review too. You said it better than I could! :-)

  7. I think it's being pushed as a paranormal romance cause they're so popular right now. :S It's so annoying cause people are going to pick it up and be disappointed there's so little romance! Bah humbug.

    I'm SO glad you enjoyed it. I was just thrilled after reading it because it's so much fun!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I read and adore each one.