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Book Reviews

Review: “The Name of the Star,” Maureen Johnson

July 15, 2016
Review: “The Name of the Star,” Maureen JohnsonThe Name of the Star (Shades of London #1)
Written by Maureen Johnson
Published September, 2011 by Speak
372 pages
Genres: Ghosts, Mystery
Purchase: The Book DepositoryBookworldBooktopia
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four-stars

Jack the Ripper is back, and he's coming for Rory next....

Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school just as a series of brutal murders mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper killing spree of more than a century ago has broken out across the city.

The police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one.

Rory spotted the man believed 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...unless she can tap her previously unknown abilities to turn the tables.

The Name of the Star is the first Maureen Johnson book I’ve read and it won’t be the last. With a gripping mystery and stunning backdrop, the first book in the Shades of London trilogy was a fast-paced and quick read for me. I can’t wait to continue on to The Madness Underneath. Spoilers in the full review.

“Keep calm and carry on. Also, stay in and hide because the Ripper is coming.”

The Name of the Star is one of those books I’ve had on my shelf for so, so long. Although I’ve been dying to read it since I first heard about it, for some reason other books just kept slotting themselves in front of it. Excuses aside, I finally picked this one up and was so happy with what I found within.

Our leading lady, Rory, moves from Louisiana to London for boarding school and the contrasts between the school life she’s known and the one she’s about to become acquainted with couldn’t be more different. Immediately I was immersed in the day-to-day buzz of Wexford, situated in London’s East End and surrounded by pubs, shops and tube stations. I’ve read SO MANY boarding-school-based YA novels in my time, so I was glad to find that this one didn’t adhere to the tropes. It was as if I was reading a boarding school novel for the first time.

Rory is an okay leading character. I think she has a lot of growing to do (particularly where the Shades are concerned) and hopefully Maureen Johnson will address that in the books to come.

“Fear can’t hurt you,” she said. “When it washes over you, give it no power. It’s a snake with no venom. Remember that. That knowledge can save you.”

The first half of the book was starkly different to the second half. The first, completely void of any real ‘paranormal’ plotline was probably my favourite part. I loved learning about London, Wexford, and seeing Rory’s relationship with Jazza solidify. The Jack the Ripper copycat murders were chilling – and I was absolutely wrapt, wanting to find out the motive. I felt a real sense of danger as the girls of Hawthorne House were bunkering down for the night, and as Rory and Jazza crept across the square after curfew.

Things lost a star, however, when the ghostly element was introduced in the second half. I know this series is called Shades of London, and that it was going to revolve around ghosts and those that could see them, but to be honest, I would’ve been happy if the Jack the Ripper murders had been committed by a real, breathing person and the book stayed firmly in the ‘mystery’ section. It was with the introduction of Boo, and the shades, that I felt the story was going a bit downhill.

I didn’t like the character of Boo at all. Completely unlike Rory (and getting in the way of her amazing friendship with Jazza), Boo suddenly took up all the screen time and became Rory’s ‘main friend’ out of nowhere. I was really hoping that the relationship Maureen Johnson had spent so much time fleshing out previously wouldn’t be thrown to the wayside, but I was wrong. I really hope that The Madness Underneath rectifies that – I loved Rory and Jazza’s tea, books and Cheez Whiz parties.

The romance in this book also left a lot to be desired. There’s no ‘romance story’ per se, but Rory does involve herself in some make-out sessions with fellow student, Jerome. Their relationship could’ve been quite interesting, but instead it felt flimsy and included merely for kissing scenes. I really think The Name of the Star could’ve done without it.

“Sometimes people graduate but they don’t leave. They hang around for years, for no reason. I would think of ghosts like that, I decided.”

As for the characters of Stephen and Callum; I am interested to learn more about them, as well as the Shades. I’m still a bit confused about the diamonds in the phones (I get how they work, but I think they could hook up a better device, really) and also about Anderson’s comments regarding the coloured diamonds when he cornered Rory in the street after the dance. There were parts of this book that felt a bit all over the place, but they weren’t absolutely terrible.

As for the Jack the Ripper stuff, it was well-researched but the conclusion of it all felt a little weak. I wish Anderson had been a Ripper nut, or that it had been someone involved in the crime, not merely a previous Shade who knew using the Ripper name would garner attention. Having it all be in order to draw out three shade kids seemed a little unrealistic. I wish the scope had been grander and the conclusion a little more ‘wow’. I did, however, enjoy Jo the ghost – and the part she played.

About Maureen Johnson

Maureen knew from an early age she wanted to be a writer. She went to high school at an all-girls' Catholic school and graduated from University of Delaware with a degree in writing. She now lives and writes in New York City. Many of the adventures Maureen's characters face in her books are based on real-life stories. Maureen has traveled all over Europe, and is a Secret Sister to vlog brothers Hank and John Green.

1 Comment

  • Reply Lucy January 23, 2017 at 5:29 am

    I recently read this book too, after buying it about four years ago and constantly putting off reading it simply because I didn’t want to be freaked out by it! I loved it! Great review!

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