Saturday, December 10, 2011

YAckers Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Published September 29, 2011.

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

It was a pretty much general consensus that this book was full of love. While we all had our minor quirks with it, overall, we were falling just short of fangirling.

Of course, I think we need to start with the initial reactions. Melissa was all like, "MJ's certainly outdone herself this time... One of my favorites of hers (which means the fact that I impulse bought it so she could sign it wasn't a waste. Thank heavens)." Then I said, "I will say that I want to place this book on the floor, open to the middle, and roll around on it like a dog rolls around in the grass, goofy ass smile and all. Is that weird.?" To which Laura affirmed, "Nope, your reaction is completely normal. There's a hell of a lot of awesome in it." Of course, I was super excited about "No love triangle. OMFGBBQ a YA novel WITHOUT a love triangle!" Melissa backed me up with "OMFG I can figure out but BBQ??? And you're right: I didn't even think of it that way, but that is one bit of awesomeness there."

Laura then wanted to get into the scary - "I DO NOT read scary books, watch scary movies, think scary thoughts or go out in the dark because I am a giant wuss but I wanted to read this book even knowing that it was about Jack the Ripper. AND IT WAS SCARY. Not in a blood and gore way but in a wtf-ghost-of-Jack-the-Ripper-is-killing-people-and-now-I-have-a-NEW-thing-to-be-afraid-of kind of way. I WAS SCARED STUPID WHEN- "Jack" suddenly appeared behind Rory when she was climbing back in through the dorm window. He was so calm and polite and smiling that I think that scared me more than anything. I like my evil to be diabolical and chaotic so that it's easily recognized- I don't want it to be nice to me.

So what part SCARED YOU STUPID?"

Melissa's response - "I think the whole final scene in the subway station. Sure it was the same-old showdown that you see everywhere, but I was terrified. That, and the whole atmosphere of not knowing who the Ripper was. Scared the pants off me."

Then I said - "It takes a lot to actually scare me so I wasn't really scared reading this one but I was waving the horror banner for it. The pivotal moment for me was when Jack swung Boo right in front of the car and he's all like don't lie to me bitch or people will get hurt to Rory. Pure genius. I love authors that are unafraid to do what needs to be done for their story. Up until this point, I felt that Jack had a soft spot for Rory. Nope! It made him all the more terrifying. As if him slicing people up wasn't bad enough. When that element of "no one is safe" finally hits the pages, it elevates the horror story for me into someone amazing." Melissa backed me up again with - "Agreed! MJ said, when I saw her in TX back in Oct, that it's the author's job to make your character suffer. She obviously practices what she preaches." I agreed with - "I love her for making her characters suffer. Nothing says crappy writing like characters getting everything easy. Johnson went above and beyond to make her characters work for their ending."

Sya jumped in with her two cents - "I found the whole thing very creepy, but a lot creepier BEFORE the idea of Shades appeared. Jack The Ripper gives me the willies, anyway and the writing was suitably atmospheric. I liked how MJ combined this with the whole fish out of water thing and I thought the school life side of things was really nicely written. My only complaint would be that it reminded me massively of a series I'd recently re-watched called Whitechapel, which dealt with a Ripper copy cat. Some of the scenes were (inevitably) so similar that I felt I was reading my own copy cat. I understand that when dealing with the whole copy cat thing that's the whole point but it did lead to me feeling it had all rather been done before. However, I suspect that Whitechapel was only shown in the UK (although you should ALL look it out as it's brilliant) and therefore this wouldn't bother US readers."

Of course, where would a discussion be if I didn't get off on a ramble about something technical? "What really pulled me in about Name of the Star was the setting. Having been a study abroad student, I could relate to Rory so well, from the weight of her luggage to being the "only one" with an accent. I think outside of the story, Johnson captured the subtleties of setting perfectly and ended up sucking me in even more. I could still feel the damp rain, taste the weird food (sorry, Sya! some of it is strange, like the Brits' affinity for beans on everything, and they're not the brown sugar beans!) and just the little things that Rory craved from home and cherished, like her cheez whiz. The setting as a whole, for me, just hugged the plot in its tight embrace and blended everything together all seamless-like. Everything just rang true to me.

Anyone else have any thoughts on the setting?"

While I kind of threw a bit of a dud into the questions pot, some of my fellow YAckers did have things to add. Like Melissa, who said "Um. Not that I can put in so eloquent of words. My thoughts are along the lines of: The setting? Yeah, it rocked. Actually I'm not a setting person; I get into plot and characters more and let the setting fade into the background. And I feel like MJ is such a character person: hers pop off the page and into real life. (I seriously have a crush on Spencer from Suite Scarlett) And in this case, I thoroughly loved Rory and Jaz (that was her name, right?), and the setting more than supported that love."

Then Laura proceeded to frighten me a little - "Now, y'all know I like to do the good talkin' when every I can. It don't always come out all eloquent like but when we hicks go cross the pond there we still try to act like we have at least a bit of home schoolin'. MJ was very generous letting Jack be as nice and polite to Rory as he was. We all know that ain't how it would have happened because ain't many dead English serial killers out there that speak southern . . .So no, I don't have much to say about the setting. Well, other than, EVERYTHING is scarier when it takes place in a strange boarding school." Then Jillian jumped in with "I too liked the setting part of the story. It was what mainly pulled me in the story. I do love places with such a rich history!"

Jillian then threw down with a few questions, starting with "Did anyone else read this book MAINLY for the Jack the Ripper-ish premise? I have to be honest; it was what made me even interested in reading it! Sooooo what pulled YOU in the most?"

Sya was the first to get in on that - "I was definitely attracted to the book due to the Ripper premise - I think it's a mystery that still obsesses much of Britain and is truly creepy. I wasn't sure about the whole ghosty mythology - I thought it was a little rushed." Melissa added "I didn't actually know that much about Jack the Ripper before reading this book. I'm not into the whole serial killer thing. If it wasn't MJ, I wouldn't have read it. And even then, I wouldn't have been as interested in reading it if I hadn't heard her speak at the Austin Teen Book Festival. So, really: MJ herself pulled me in the most. Once there, though, I was completely hooked." Jillian came back in and rounded it out with - "I have to agree that I thought the ghost mythology stuff was rushed! I felt like it was just like, 'surprise! this is a story about paranormal stuff!' I sort of wish it was just about Jack the Ripper and an actual and new serial killer on the loose! In my opinion only of course! not that MJ's premise wasn't good.. because it obviously was . . .For some reason Jack the Ripper's one of those figures in history that's always been extra intriguing to me! I mean, how can such an evil person, who did evil things, got away with his crimes? Mystery crimes have always been really interesting to me, so maybe that's why I was highly intrigued with its premise"

Jillian followed up her first question with - "If you could change anything about the Name of the Star, what would it be? And what did you think of the characters? I personally would change the characters and their development! For some reason, I thought they lacked a bit and I couldn't really find myself empathizing with them or even rooting for them!"

Sya was the first off the line - "I'd have more time spent on the mythology of the whole ghostie thing - I thought it all felt a bit rushed. I quite liked the characters, although a few of them (particularly whatserface Ghostbuster/fake student - sorry, I don't have the book to hand and her name for the moment escapes me) seemed a little depthless. I liked Rory, though." I was right behind her with "I don't want to be that person that says I wouldn't change anything so I'm going to say Boo (that's her name, Sya!). She was just a little . . . much to me. Plus it made the segue into the Shades a little brash and abrupt and I think they let Rory in a little too quickly but even that's a reach for me to say. I just loved this book so." Melissa added "My biggest complaint was that the whole ending in the bathroom was a bit... anti-climatic and unconvincing. But that's it. Really." And Laura brought up the rear with "I thought Boo was needlessly annoying and I could have done without her. I was also unimpressed with Rory's "love" interest- if you could even call him that. No chemistry what so ever. I wanted her to fall for the library ghost :) What sold everything for me, aside from it being a really kick ass, freaky serial killer ghost story, was Rory. She was loveable, likeable and extremely cool. I'm currently reading another story by MJ (Let it Snow, Sya Bruce!) and I think writing kick-ass leading ladies may be her strong point."

A good place to end our YAcker review would be with Jillian's final question - "What would be your favorite thing/s about the Name of the Star?"

I was the first eager beaver here - "Just the way it made me feel. I've been in Rory's shoes, an American living in London's East End so I felt everything she did. Plus the story was pretty awesome too." Sya was next with "The whole Jack the Ripper aspect being put into a modern context. Like I said previously, it's been done before but still works. More serial killers in YA - MORE!" Laura was right there with "I liked that it was scary! I never read anything even slightly scary (remember that I'm a wuss) and not only did I read it but I couldn't put it down. Such is the power of its awesome. I'm so big and brave now that I could shovel-decapitate zombies, or better yet, go to Walmart at 5pm." Melissa popped in and said "I find MJ to be hilarious. Seriously. I like all the little asides and snide comments. Character and setting be dammed; I like that MJ makes me *laugh*." Jillian said "My favorite thing would be the Jack the Ripper idea too as well as the setting!" With Sab rounding out the discussion with "I second the Jack the Ripper twist too, specially the first half when you still don't know that there are ghosts involved. It was very exhilarating and thrilling! and scary as hell."

So yeah, you think we all liked it? After the turd that the first book ended up being, it was a wonderful early Christmas gift for us all to get to read this amazing book. If you haven't read THE NAME OF THE STAR yet, put it on your Christmas wish list and FedEx it to Santa ASAP. It's definitely a must read!

YAckers involved in this discussion -

Ban Factor: High - Ghosties will do it. Not to mention the graphic detail of the murders.
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