The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Keep calm and carry on. Also, stay in and hide because the Ripper is coming. Luckily, we all had his schedule. Like an evil Santa, there was no doubt when he did his work.
When Rory leaves her home in Louisiana to study abroad at a boarding school in London, she imagines it being a year of sightseeing and adventure, but things don’t quite work out as she expected. A Jack-the-Ripper copycat is carrying out murders in the neighborhood right around her school, and Rory herself has seen the man whom she thinks to be the Ripper — the catch being that no one else could see him.
This was the first book I’ve read by Maureen Johnson, and one of the things that stood out about it was her writing style. She manages to write from the first-person perspective of a teenager and actually sound like a legitimate teen — from the dorky personality quirks to the teenage egotism and somewhat ridiculous but humorous trains of thought and turns of phrases. Though it takes awhile to get into, once the action gets going, it takes a whole new spin and trivial things like the boarding school rules and hockey games and her roommates’ rivalry takes a back seat to the real story — which I appreciate, because really, if you’re being hunted down by Jack the Ripper, that’s a totally legit reason to put your new boyfriend on the back burner… if you survive to explain to him, I’m sure he’ll understand. I also ended up learning quite a bit about Jack the Ripper in this book, a topic that I hadn’t really ever read about.
This book definitely has some typical YA characteristics — romantic tension and “snogging,” a bit of silly teenage girl angst/drama, and a protagonist with a sense of humor that ends up a bit immature (but really, sounds very much like an ordinary sixteen-year-old). Also in the category or things that kind of grate on me is the villain monologue at the end — yes, I know, it works in movies, but I kind of expect better from books. My only other small disappointment was that (highlight for spoiler: the killings weren’t actually done by Jack the Ripper, but by a copycat; and how cool would it have been if Jo weren’t a WWII soldier but an actual Ripper victim?) — a small disappointment and really more of just a personal preference of how I would have wanted it to end. Some of the British-isms were incredibly stereotypical, but hey, they worked for the story and with Rory’s very American perspective.
Overall: Rippingly good book with sharp wit and dangerous twists. It was hard to tear myself away.