Book Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

If you follow Maureen Johnson on Twitter, you know she has a penchant for silly, sarcastic and light-hearted banter. She even approaches serious subject matters in this manner. So it should come as no shock that the same tone and voice is what you’ll find in her latest novel, The Name of the Star. But don’t let that carefree, entertaining voice fool you. Because as soon as you’ve been lulled into thinking this is just a cute little story about a girl from Louisiana adjusting to life at a London boarding school … WHAM! Johnson hits you with some of the most horrific and gruesome descriptions of a Jack the Ripper style murder. There are Stephen King-worthy horror elements at work, and in the best possible way.

In fact, not only are the descriptions grotesque (she paints a very vivid picture of the gore) — but Johnson weaves in a thread of suspense that will have you on the edge of your seat. What’s really clever is the way she maintains this dramatic tension even in scenes involving kissing and hand-holding and general adorableness.

Beyond translating the Jack the Ripper crimes to the 21st century, with a paranormal YA twist, Johnson also introduces a really fantastic cast of characters. Not a single one of them is one-dimensional; at every moment, Johnson takes the cliches you expect and twists them into wholly unique individuals. And that’s part of what makes reading The Name of the Star so much fun (in between all the scary, gory stuff, of course) — is spending time with these really fantastic characters. It’s these more simplistic scenes that are actually quite reminiscent of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna & the French Kiss, actually.

Then there’s the whole paranormal element, which I won’t delve into too much for the sake of avoiding spoilers — but needless to say, it’s a great aspect to the novel and it’s really at the heart of setting up a fantastic and fun series. What’s more, Johnson manages to wrap-up the main plot of The Name of the Star within this single novel, while setting up a major twist at the end that will have you dying for the sequel immediately. It’s the perfect combination of conclusion and cliffhanger … and yes, I realize that’s a contradiction, but in this case it is exactly what you’ll find!

The Name of the Star is the epitome of cross-genre YA, combining the best of horror, romance, paranormal, mystery and more in what’s sure to be the first of many fantastic adventures in the Shades of London series. She’s concocted a world that will both terrify and tantalize you beyond the very last page.

The Name of the Star is in stores on September 29th.

Here is the official synopsis:

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.

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