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Book Review: The Name of the Star

May 22, 2012

The Name of the Star
Maureen Johnson
Putnam Juvenile 372 pages September 2011

I knew I was going to love this nicely spooky mystery, with its carefully constructed atmosphere. I loved it on a reread for class, too!

It’s set at a modern British boarding school and involves Jack the Ripper style murders, 21st-century reactions to Jack the Ripper style murders (including the 24-hour news cycle) and London reacting… CCTV, police investigations, bar theme nights, and nervous school administration. It rings true to how people would react.

Also, ghosts. There are ghosts. I love this book.

The characters really make sense. Sarah, a classmate who was discussing the book with me, pointed out that the characters aren’t described physically in the huge amounts of detail in terms of their appearance. But there’s a lot of great physical detail that makes London easy to visualize through the eyes of Louisiana transplant Rory. Sliding over rainy cobblestones in her flip flops, always feeling cold. telling homesick stories about her extended family, her uncles and little details like parakeets and angels.

Claudia, the house mother, shouting about hockey and being all ruddy faced and sporty. Alastair in the library, Jerome getting fascinated and a little morbid with Ripper coverage. Jazza being too nice to gossip, and Boo being too unfocused and cheerful to study, talking in a London accent and somewhere between annoying and appealing. to comment on some of the other characters, would give away major plot points.
In other words, I was pretty much hugging the hardcover book and grinning like a loon. I can’t wait to read the sequel, which is totally set up to happen. Write faster, Maureen Johnson!

I think this counts as historical fiction because it builds in the idea of Jack the Ripper from 19th-century London, by mostly it’s about the mystery and the supernatural in the present. Trying to figure out what counts as a genre, as well as why a book is good, appears to be an occupational hazard of my library school class…

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