Bibliomantic Book Club: “The Name of the Star” by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Release Date: September 29, 2011
Genre: YA, Supernatural, Mystery, Boarding School

Summary: Rory, a teenager from Louisiana, is in London for her first year at a private boarding school. The day of her arrival marks the anniversary of the first murder committed by Jack the Ripper….and it just so happens a grisly and eerily similar murder took place that very day at nearly the exact same time. All of London is thrown into “Rippermania” as more bodies are found and it seems Jack the Ripper is stalking the streets again. Late one night of an expected murder, Rory sees someone that no one else can see and becomes the only witness in the case. Soon she is caught up in something huge, involving secret police…and ghosts.

After listening to Maureen hype this book on twitter for months, we were seriously pumped up for this book – the first in her new Shades of London series. (The second book, Maureen just announced, will be called The Madness Underneath – love already!) Cassie-la, Cassie-wa, and Stephanie attended the book release party at Books of Wonder in NYC where we were treated to wine and cupcakes and received the greatest magnetic poetry set ever along with the fantastic book that is The Name of the Star.

WARNING: These are our thoughts – proceed with caution, there may be some spoilers here! Especially Stephanie’s section.

CASSIE-WA’S THOUGHTS

Maureen Johnson is the best and so is The Name of the Star!! I could not be more excited that this book is part of a trilogy. It has a mostly complete story on its own (except the amazing OH SHIT moment at the end!) but I had so much fun reading it I can’t wait for more!

Rory Deveaux comes from a tiny swamp town in Louisiana full of strange people such as her relatives who collect (hundreds of) angel figurines or own five refrigerators. Rory feels most in her element when she’s telling stories about these people to entertain her new friends. Considering where she’s coming from, her culture shock observations are super entertaining.

It takes a while for this book to really be about ghosts, but I didn’t care. I loved just reading about Rory’s adventures as she tries to adjust to London and a school where she lives with all of her classmates and is forced to play sports even though she’s terrible at them–I completely sympathized with her there. And then, of course, there are the Ripper murders.

I love how immediately sensationalized the murders around London become. It was completely believable to me that people would celebrate with memorabilia and parties waiting for each murder to happen. It’s really funny and really sad at the same time.

So this book is already super interesting, not to mention hilarious thanks to Maureen’s inimitable Maureen-ness, BUT THEN IT’S ABOUT GHOSTS TOO. Rory gains the ability to see the dead in an amazingly ridiculous way, and over the course of the book becomes involved with the secret GHOST POLICE who are in charge of making sure lingering spirits aren’t causing trouble. Or, you know, brutally murdering people…

The Name of the Star has everything: ghosts, mystery, romance, boarding school hijinks, cheese whiz, EVERYTHING. I can’t wait for the next one!

STEPHANIE’S THOUGHTS

I love this book. I just want to open with that because…wow, for real. I am a HUGE fan of Maureen Johnson the person, but in the past haven’t been the biggest fan of her books. I absolutely love her story in Let It Snow, but didn’t really enjoy 13 Little Blue Envelopes that much. And most of her other work I am reluctant to pick up because…well…there’s no demons or vampires or supernatural stuff in them. So really Name of the Star fixes EVERYTHING.

Maureen’s writing is fantastic in this and her main character Rory is absolutely awesome. In 13 Little Blue Envelopes, I really didn’t particularly like Ginny or feel any sort of connection with her, but Rory is so easy to click with. Even though we have absolutely nothing in common in that she is from Louisiana and goes to boarding school in London. But she is awesome and so realistic. I just love her reactions to everything that happens to her, from moving to a new country and making new friends, to suddenly seeing ghosts and being caught up in hunting down a murderer. It all feels so genuine, like she never throws her head back and screams or sinks to the ground with her skirts puddling around her as she weeps or any other silly stereotypical thing. She is a real person, but kind of a quirky one ala Maureen and it is fantastic. All the characters are great – I am partial towards Alistair especially – the 80’s punk ghost who has read everything in the library and is an excellent research tool.

I also love that the plot does not go in the direction you expect. Even when I knew there would be “ghost police” this book really kept me guessing the whole way through. And the ending…wow. Absolutely brilliant. Because whether Rory’s parents like it or not, it seems she is going to be a member of the ghostbusting squad after all…and as a weapon! Crazy conclusion, cannot wait for the next book! Although Maureen has threatened not to release it until EVERYONE has read Name of the Star – so get on it!

KELLY’S THOUGHTS

Sadly, I missed the wine, cupcakes, and magnets. I didn’t think my graduate school professors were going to understand me skipping class with the excuse – “but it’s MAUREEN Johnson. She tells sexy baby jokes and goes on awesome feminist tangents and makes CRAPFTS.”  So I missed the fun this time, but I am so there for the second book party – graduate school be damned! And speaking of… I can’t wait to continue this series. It’s everything I want from a Young Adult novel – snarky dialogue, realistic romance, tension between old and new, Morrissey references, and a violent, murderous, creepy-as-hell ghost!

The build up is truly fantastic. Maureen doesn’t dump us right into the middle of some badass, ghostbusting action. Rory actually has to adjust to living in England, and the transition is really believable. Classes are super difficult, her roommate Jazza is awesome, and her headmistress Claudia looks like “her leisure activities included wrestling large woodland animals and banging bricks together.” Life in the boarding school quickly becomes normal.

So it’s all the more creepy when Rory starts seeing people that others can’t. Especially in the light of the recent Jack-the-Ripper murders occurring right outside her doorstep. Knowing this story is about ghosts, the reader figures out what is going on before Rory. But it’s not annoying, like some dumbass narrator who has the truth staying he/she right in the face. Because why would a normal girl expects it to be ghosts? (No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!) The way she finds out and what happens from there are too good to be spoiled, so just go get it!

Reading The Name of the Star is like going on a ghost tour with your slightly unhinged best friend: it’s thrilling, scary, laugh-out-loud funny, and you won’t regret a minute spent walking the streets of London, following the trail of Jack the Ripper.

CASSIE-LA’S THOUGHTS

I am proud to say this is my first Maureen Johnson book. I am also proud to say I loved it! What a wonderful introduction into the craziness that is MJ. This novel has a wonderful story, features characters you can feel for, and there’s enough mutilation for any horror fan. Imagine me wildly gesticulating at myself here.

Rory’s journey made me want to live in a posh boarding school in London, which is insane considering I cannot subsist off British food (it’s truly a culinary disaster) yet Maureen makes it sound so damn delicious. It helps that I love books about boarding schools (see Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy and John Green’s Looking for Alaska) even if Cassie-wa has a problem relating to the pranking and wild antics that occurs in them. What fun would boarding school be without antics I ask you?

Maureen did this book right, picking a fun topic to research: Jack the Ripper, and having an excuse to travel to London to complete said research. If I were an established author I know I would make sure all my books took place in far flung countries and tropical locations. If you’re going to do research it might as well be somewhere fun, and as is the case with this book, full of history.

I enjoyed the Ripper history, the journey Rory had adjusting to her new life, and the friends she met along the way. I also extremely enjoyed the super secret government organization which I cannot go into to, because I feel like doing so would ruin the book. I can however talk about my devotion to Team Alistair! Alistair is a smart, moody blue-haired teenager who wears Doc Martens and likes 80’s punk. He’s pretty damn awesome and I support him all the way. It also helps that I enjoy supporting characters who don’t even need a team affiliation.

Despite the very un-Maureen subject matter, there are very Maureen sentences scattered throughout this book. The first one I came across being a description of Boo (gotta love that a character in a book about ghosts is named Boo) playing field hockey. “She ran up and down the field with that stick like a thing born to run up and down a field with a stick”. Another is where a girl is described as having a “bunny-crushing handshake”, despite the fact that Rory believes she doesn’t actually crush bunnies. Finally, my personally favorite includes Boo trying to explain why Rory has been acting so strange, “Sick all night.” she says, “Crazy fever. Babbling her head off about ponies… Period fever. It’s the worst.” Period fever is to boys as blinker fluid is to girls. That’s the analogy I choose and I’m sticking to it.

Other fun tidbits include the zombie Spice Girls, learning that Samuel Pepys is pronounced Samuel Peeps, being jealous that we don’t get to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day in America (Happy Guy Fawkes Day BTW!), and the strong desire to become a Ripperologist. You can make a career out of that!?! Jealous!

Overall this book was a fun romp and a wonderful introduction into the wild mind that is the one, the only, MJ.

WHAT WE LIKED MOST:
-Alistair! Yeah Team Alistair!
-Maureen’s hilarious writing style that sucks you in
-The wonderful characters you can’t help but love (unlike in MJ’s other books)
-New excuse for girls: period fever
-Murder, mayhem, horror!

WHAT WE LIKED LEAST:
-Nothing? Nothing is something at least

Join us next month when we review our November Bibliomantic Book Club Book: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel.

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