I have never been interested in Jack the Ripper, and am even less intrigued after reading The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. The book begins with main character Rory moving from Louisiana to a fancy London boarding school for her senior year when her parents get jobs in England, coinciding with a series of copycat murders based on the gruesome ripper killings. As the murders begin to accumulate, the only person with a clue of what’s going in is Rory who thinks she saw a man on campus the night of one of the murders. Unfortunately, her friends did not see the form and many questions and adventures ensue. Which is not unexpected, given that the book is, at heart, a mystery. Rory must find the identity of the killer.
While the entire book follows the conventions of a mystery, several other genres weave their way into the narrative. The first half of the novel feels like a traditional contemporary YA novel, complete with first romance, fast friends (and frienemies) and culture shock. I loved the cleverness of Rory, the endearing, if slightly clichéd, British characters, and the culture clash between posh Britain and deep American south (both places I have briefly lived). The second half … well I don’t want to spoil anything but it abruptly shifts in the fantasy direction.
I did enjoy this book, and it definitely made me want to read more Maureen Johnson, but there were a few things I had problems with. I thought the shift was too forced. I liked the first half, and wanted more of the real life to permeate the fantasy plot. The largest obstacle for me, were the gruesome descriptions of the murders, which would have (if you’ll excuse my pun) killed my interest in reading it. The first few pages were actually the scariest and it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.
While I found the genre bending a little jarring, I do think Johnson included something for everyone in the novel. Overall the characters were believable and interesting, the plot was fast paced, and the anglophile in me couldn’t resist the explanations of British culture.
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