So, despite being interrupted by Michael Grant last week, I’ve finally finished one of our £1 World Book Day titles for teens, the rippertastic Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. Of course, it says that in the title, so I suppose I’m just repeating myself… But I’m setting up the review, ok?! Don’t judge me!
So, the Name of the Star is a paranormal thriller following a young American girl who is attending the prestigious boarding school Wexford, all the way across the pond in London, England. Aurora (Rory to her friends), is her name, and she arrives in London at around the same time murders have started to take the city by the throat. Why? Because these murders appear to follow the traits, dates and even locations of the infamous works of Jack the Ripper back in 1888. A killer so brutal and mysterious, that his legacy lives to this day, and his identity is still shrouded in mystery. This of course, is a minor side note to Rory, who is busy settling in to her new life, the classes, her roomate Jazza, and all the usual suspects that come with living in a private boarding school. During one particularly animated conversation during mealtime though, Rory chokes, and despite narrowly avoiding death, this little accident will change Rory’s life forever. Suddenly, she’s the first person to see someone on the night of a Ripper murder. Someone no-one else can see. She’s the first witness since the murders began, and that makes her a likely target. Soon, she’s brought up to speed by the Shades, a shadowy trio of special police officers, all of whom have the sight. They, like Rory, have had near death experiences, and ever since then, they have been able to see and communicate with ghosts. Some ghosts are simply harmless shades, confused and in need to help to reach peace. Others however, like the Ripper, are far more malevolent all together, and it’s down to the Shades to stop them. Rory can’t tell anyone, but she has to help the Shades in their search, and they have to protect her, as the Ripper makes in perfectly clear that he only wants Aurora as his final victim…
One part murder-mystery, one part supernatural thriller, with dashes of humour and romance thrown into the mix to bring a fast, funny, scary and touching book. Rory is an instantly familiar character, using humour and an animated sense of interaction that make her both instantly endearing and also help give her the attitude that too many female characters fall short of in teen literature. Her supporting cast are also superb, with the particular gems in my mind, being the members of the shades: Stephen, Callum and Boo. Each one has had some kind of near-death experience, leading to their gift, and each one is a twisted psychological back story waiting to be spilled. The promise of later books to develop the characters is tantalising, knowing that these great caricatures with their shadowy history will be further teasingly revealed is a great incentive to keep reading these books. The romance is kept short, and doesn’t dominate the plot, which is a nice break from the normal way it’s handled. Rory is no sap, that’s for sure.
The story telling is first rate, pacing itself brilliantly, using each of the dates of the original Ripper murders as a keystone to major events driving the story forward. The sense of bleak isolation, even in such a bustling city as London is well explored through characters both alive and dead, and Maureen Johnson is fantastic at using the idea of mass hysteria to create a sense of epic proportions and panic towards the later stages of the novel. The plots drops and twists help keep the reader guessing until right near the very end, and there are more than one tense stand off moments that make putting the book down literally impossible.
So, in short, The Name of the Star is a thriller and a chiller, with strong characters and a wry sense of humour. It promises to kick start an interesting paranormal mystery series!