I’ll admit I’m not usually that in to contemporary stories. I typically gravitate towards historical, or otherworldly fictions, perhaps because the distant setting provides another element of escape to a supernatural story. In fact, when I picked up The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, I thought it was a historical novel, hah. I was surprised to find out that it is set in current day London, and that I loved it even without a period background.
The Name of the Star follows Rory, an American teenager from Louisiana, who is starting boarding school in the East End of London. Unfortunately, her arrival coincides with a string of murders around the city that seem to be copying Jack the Ripper.
Things become really interesting when Rory witnesses the potential killer, but no one else can see him. Rory starts to think she’s losing it, until she meets a fantastic cast of characters who convince her that not only is she totally sane, she can see ghosts.
Johnson does a marvelous job setting the scene at the traditional boarding school, smack in the middle of gritty London. Her animated descriptions rekindled my not-so-secret longing to attend British Boarding School, and her details of classes, social happenings and romance made it all feel true to life. I really felt for Rory, as she navigated the choppy waters of a foreign high school hierarchy. A lot happens in the narrative even before anything paranormal is introduced, and while sometimes I’m eager to absorb said particles at the get go, Johnson is such a natural storyteller that I was completely embedded in Rory’s new life when I received the added bonus of ghosts.
Rory was quirky, original, full of wit and charm, but also lovingly awkward. She wants to impress her fellow schoolmates, falls for a cute guy in class, and enjoys shocking the Brits with her stories of growing up in the rural South. She’s willing to take risks to catch a glimpse of the Ripper Copycat Killer, until it leads to her entanglement in the case of a century, and a secret society of ghost hunters.
This book genuinely scared me, to the point where I found myself avoiding it at night and re-reading Harry Potter to lend me added comfort between chapters. I liked that it frightened me. Johnson created a threat that felt unpredictable and characters that I was invested in, without which, you can’t inspire real fear in your reader. I can’t wait to read more about how Rory explores her role with the mysterious Shades of London (ps. Team Stephen all the way).