Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson

Spending a year in London studying at the Wexford School is a dream-come-true for Rory. Given her Cajun background from the swamps of Louisiana, it seems terribly exotic. But what could have been just a story of an unforgettable year abroad gets a twist of the supernatural when her stay is interrupted by a series of mysterious murders. Someone is replicating the notorious crimes of Jack the Ripper in modern-day London. And Rory appears to be one of the few people who knows who he is. That's when things start to get really weird!

Maureen Johnson doesn't write books with deep literary pretensions, but all of her books are original and interesting. Her heroines tend to be independent adventurers, unafraid of flying from the nest. They will have a romantic interest, but the boy never gets in the way of the story and is usually not terribly instrumental in its resolution. But beyond those broad requirements, each of her stories are unique. This one combines psychological thriller and ghost story, but sets the whole thing in the comfortable YA world of modern-day English boarding school. And unlike other recent YA books that deal with supernatural matters (like Fade, which I despised!), this one is lots of fun. The wisecrack about vampires and werewolves on page 214 is priceless.

Johnson crafts a good story. Excellent pacing, memorable characters, a heroine we root for, all in that familiar school setting. One might argue that the story would have worked just as well without the murders and the ghosts, but it wouldn't have been as much fun. In sum, nothing deep, but a great way to pass a few hours.

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