Friday, June 8, 2012

Name of the Star Review

Book talk: Rory grew up in Bénouville, Louisiana "an unstable place, built on a swamp."  Bénouville is full of interesting characters like cousin Diane, who runs the Healing Angel Ministry out of her living room or Billy Mack who started his own religion in his garage.  But it's not until Rory leaves Bénouville for senior year abroad in London that she starts to suspect herself of going crazy.  Soon she has more to worry about than picking up on British slang and keeping up with her new school's strict academic standards.  A new Jack the Ripper is on the loose and if she isn't careful, Rory may be the next victim.

Rocks my socks: Rory's distinctive Southern charm introducing the reader to London as she herself gets to know it is the major draw of the novel.  I liked the small details, for example when Rory first hears that someone "pulled a Jack the Ripper" after she lands in London she figures it's just some slang she hasn't learned yet and says "oh, sure" without much concern.  Rory's not some fawning Belle though, which I appreciate.  She is as strong and resilient as the town she comes from-rebuilding itself after every flood. The premise is interesting as well.  I liked the way Johnson incorporated the ever-present surveillance in London into the novel and how she was able to create a mystery in spite of it.  I also found how the public reacted to the killings interesting.  The new Ripper re-creates the murders of the original on the same dates so everyone knows when the next will happen.  The public eats it up and the news plays it up and takes advantage of it in a way that is unfortunately realistic, despite the fact that people are being brutally slaughtered. Tourism soars as amateur detectives arrive on the scene and someone even makes a 'singing kidney video' based on the murders that goes viral.  The night of the Double-Event when two people were murdered "was bigger than New Year's" and Rory and her school-mates' main concern is that they would not get to participate because they were being locked in for their own safety.  Ah, youth! I appreciated other realistic touches as well, like the fact that Rory knows about how and why witnesses are often unreliable and she thinks about this during her own interrogation by the police and yet knows that she can't prevent it.  Most of all I appreciated that Johnson always provides moments of levity to break up the seriousness, like the zombie spice girls costumes that Rory and her friends wear to a fancy dress party.

Rocks in my socks: If it was the realistic touches that delighted me it was the supernatural touches that disappointed me.  The premise is a bit weak, making the final reveal of murderer and motives anticlimactic.  There is a supernatural element to the story that creates several plot holes as supernatural elements are wont to do.  For example (highlight for spoiler) the killer ends up being a ghost and despite the fact that it is previously established in the novel that a ghost can't be given a cell phone because it would look weird to have a phone floating about in the air, when the killer drags someone across London at knife point on a night that is specifically described as having a large police presence, no one notices.  Even when she's held at knifepoint in a small room the bystander who can't see ghosts doesn't notice the knife. In addition, for a book described as full of romance on the inside flap the romantic sub-plot seems tacked on and non-essential.  Maybe I'm just biased though because Rory never goes for the guy I liked--the one who seems to have read the entire library and memorized the location of each book *swoon* (highlight for spoiler) sure he turns out to be a ghost, but we all have our quirks, don't we?  On a side note it bothers me that at one point Rory more or less pays for someone to write an entire essay for her and she never seems to feel guilty about it and there are no consequences.  Granted she is going through some difficult times but perhaps she could have tried explaining that to her teachers instead.  With all the Ripper madness going on I'm sure they'd be understanding.  Still, I was so enchanted by Rory that I was mostly willing to suspend my disbelief and forgive her for this infraction.

Every book its reader: The original Jack the Ripper murders were quite gruesome and so any story revolving around them is going to have its fair share of gore.  Outside of the murders though there isn't much violence and the romantic sub-plot never gets enough attention to go too far.  I'd recommend it for 6th graders and older looking for a supernatural thriller with a splash of dark humor.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

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