Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The Name of the Star, written by Maureen Johnson. G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin. 2011. $19.50 ages 12 and up
Thus, Rory meets Claudia, the 'housemistress of Hawthorne'. Quite the introduction to her new school and the girls' dorm. Aurora and her parents have moved to England from Louisiana for her parents' sabbatical year. She is enrolled in a residential school in London while her parents take up residence in Bristol.
Her school is located in Wexford (easy to find thanks to a very helpful and detailed map provided, pre-story) which is located right in the same vicinity as the notorious Jack the Ripper murders from the late 1880s. While in the school van on the way to her new digs, Rory hears the first report of a murder done 'in a manner emulating the first Jack the Ripper murder of 1888'. It is not an auspicious beginning at all. It hints at some of the events to come.
The first part of the book concerns Rory's adjustment to England's ways and her attendance at Wexford. She is quite an ordinary girl who is friendly, smart and funny. She shares tales of her family in Louisiana and adds a good dose of humor to the telling. She meets new people, works to create relationships with them, and to adjust to her school work. As we meet the various characters and listen in on conversations about the panic that grips all of London, we become aware of rising danger; that is most evident when we realize that Rory is able to see a man on campus that no one else can see. It is a startling and very unsettling discovery to make about herself.
The second part deals with tracking the man she sees, and meeting three other young people who are like her. They also see ghosts; in fact, they are team members of an elite police force whose job is to find these ghosts and get rid of them...new age ghost busters. The tension builds palpably and will keep avid readers on the edge of their seats as Rory and her new friends work to stop the killings, putting all of them in grave danger.
The writing retains my membership in Maureen Johnson's fan club. She pens a great story! She gives us warm and likable characters, many incidental details that add to the depth of her storytelling, humor in the midst of panic, and great descriptions (as is evidenced at the beginning of this post). She takes a little shot at the prevalence of the CCTV surveillance cameras that track every move but can't pick up the ghost killer, and the sensationalism of media in this day and age. She does it all without making it an issue, while bringing awareness to her readers and giving them something to think about as they read.
This was a most engaging read, and I eagerly anticipate the release of Book Two of this new Shades of London series. The wonderful ending that will have readers begging for more...isn't that just perfect?