Review of The Name of the Star

I can’t resist Maureen Johnson’s writing. I’m actually addicted to it. I know that I said this in my review of The Bermudez Triangle, but I can’t stop marveling at her skill. The Name of the Star is no exception.

When Louisiana native Rory Deveaux’s parents take a sabbatical to teach in England, she goes along with. Electing to study at a London-based college (that is, secondary school), Rory is excited to spend her senior year abroad. But after a near-death experience in the school cafeteria, Rory starts to see strange things- namely, people that no one else sees. At the same time, an unknown killer is recreating the Jack the Ripper murders: similar victims, exact dates locations, same killing style. London is in an uproar. Rory is the only one to have seen the man that police believe to be the killer, and he knows it… and plans to do something about her and her rare abilities.

The Name of the Star is Maureen Johnson’s best book to date. It’s a work of art, perfectly paced and so masterfully crafted that I can’t even imagine how she conceived everything. I don’t doubt for a second that she is a genius.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is Rory’s day-to-day life at school and in London. Having been in her position as the new American at an English live-in school (that are located in almost the exact same place), I can say that Johnson has it exactly right. While English life is fairly easy to slip into and London feels like home in no time, there are points where one is aware of just how American they are, whether it be in the way they say a word, an expectation they have, or the way they do something.

As usual, this book contains Johnson’s insane ability to combine drama and comedy, but The Name of the Star goes beyond her other books and is so scary that I cry through much of the end of the book. The climax is perfectly paced and full of tension, and there’s nothing scarier than a villain that only you can see.

Johnson also manages to inform readers that might not know anything about Jack the Ripper without infobarfing all over the book. With a mix of flashbacks, different points of view, and Rory’s Ripper-obsessed friend Jerome, Johnson slips in bits and pieces until the reader has the whole story without even realizing it.

I love this book so intensely that it’s hard to even talk about how much I love it. The Name of the Star is Johnson at her best. It’s a delicious, thrilling book that begs you to return to it so you can see all of the layers you missed the last time you read it. And there are sequels coming! CELEBRATION!

Choice quotes:

I come from people who know how to draw things out. Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.

“Rory was telling me she lives in a swamp,” Charlotte said.
“That’s right,” I said, turning up my accent a little. “These are the first shoes I’ve ever owned. They sure do pinch my feet.”

When I got to the aisle, I found a guy lounging right in the middle of it, on the floor, reading […] And he was singing a song […]
“What are you singing?” I asked. I hoped he would take that as “please stop singing.”

The English play hockey in any weather. Thunder, lightning, plague of locusts… nothing can stop the hockey. Do not fight the hockey, for the hockey will win.

“This is stupid, though. Isn’t it?”
“What you need to remember is that you are doing the interesting thing and Charlotte is not. And if we get caught, I will claim I made you go. I am American. People will assume I’m armed.”

Clearly, Jerome and I had a complicated thing going on. He told me scary Jack the Ripper facts, and I had the sudden need to make out with him until I ran out of breath.

“Never kill yourself in a Tube station. Tip number one. You might end up down here forever, staring at a wall.”

“Jack the Ripper was just a man. He wasn’t magic. Even Hitler was just a man. This Ripper is nothing more than that.”
“He’s a ghost,” I corrected her. “An incredibly powerful ghost.”
“But ghosts are just people. We just seem more frightening, I suppose, because we represent something unknown […] 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.”

It’s not that I am extremely brave- I think I just forgot myself for a moment. Maybe that’s what bravery is. You forget you’re in trouble when you see someone else in danger. Or maybe there is a limit to how afraid you can get, and I’d hit it.

Posted on June 22, 2012, in Books, Rachel, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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