Friday, July 22, 2011

Thrills and Chills: A Review of The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

The The Name of the Star (Shades of London (Hardcover - Trilogy))I love mysteries.  I am an unapologetic mystery fiend.  Since my first Nancy Drew in fourth grade, I have been a bit addicted to mystery stories. But I usually find my mystery reading from outside my preferred shelves of the young adult section.  So when I heard that one of my favorite YA authors, the brilliant Maureen Johnson, was publishing a murder mystery with a supernatural twist, I pretty much threw a party in excitement.  One of my favorite writers writing in one of my favorite genres? A dream come true! 

It is always a highly anticipated event for a bookworm when an author writes a book that seems very different that previous novels.  It's sort of a gamble: will it be brilliant or will it flop?  While I was at ALA this June I was lucky enough to be at the YALSA Young Adult Authors' Coffee Klatch.  So I got the opportunity to hear Maureen answer the question that she has likely already grown sick of hearing: why write a murder mystery about Jack the Ripper and a secret London police force? She said that she had always wanted to write a mystery.  Well, I for one am very glad that she has finally been able to pursue that interest! 

Maureen's other novels (which include The Bermudez Triangle, Suite Scarlett, 13 Little Blue Envelopes) usually fit very clearly into the sub-category of young adult realistic fiction; the delightfully supernatural Devilish is an exception to this statement.  The Name of the Star seems, initially, quite different from these other novels. It begins like many of the best mysteries: with an intriguing murder.  Then we meet Rory Deveaux, a native of Louisana whose arrival in London coincides with a brutal murder that appears to mimic  the first of Jack the Ripper's famous crimes.  Starting senior year of high school in a foreign country is already pretty terrifying and confusing but soon it appears that Rory is going to have to worry about something much scarier than British slang and unfamiliar classes as the murders continue and she finds herself caught up right in the middle.  

Rory is what I like to think of as a classic Maureen Johnson heroine: smart and spunky with a solid sense of humor.  She is likable, admirable, and realistic.  As usual, I completely adore her.  She is a great narrator, interspersing her narration with sharp and often self-deprecating observations about the world and stories about her kooky but beloved Southern family.  The novel is spot on in its descriptions of the wonders and confusions that come with studying abroad (especially in England) as well as the more universal experiences of being a teen (kissing, high school politics).  But amidst her signature elements, Maureen Johnson slowly sneaks in not only a compelling mystery but also a great supernatural twist.  By the last page, I was simultaneously thrilled and furious to remember that this book is the first in a series; it left me eager for more but frustrated that I now need to wait to get it! 

So definitely be watching the shelves of your local libraries and bookstores this September for the release of Maureen Johnson's newest, The Name of the Star!


* The copy of The Name of the Star I read and based this review on was a free (and signed!) ARC I received from the publisher at ALA Annual 2011.  

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