The Name of the Star: Shades of London, Book One -- Maureen Johnson
I hate the cover on this book. The core of my being burns with a horrified, righteous fury that such a delightful book is trapped behind what appears to be a lazypants Photoshop job.
I've been hoping for months that the cover will be different on the actual book, but now we're two weeks away from the publication date and this is the cover featured at Amazon and on the publisher's website... so it looks like what we're seeing is what we'll get.
Basically, it's a good thing for The Name of the Star that I—along will her eight bajillion other fans—will pick up anything with Maureen Johnson's name on it. Because—and maybe this is just me?—if I'd only had the cover art to go on, I very probably would have assumed that it was yet another self-pubbed paranormal romance and wandered right on by. (Without picking it up, I mean.)
Anyway. On to the book itself, which is much more happy-making.
Due to her parents' European teaching sabbatical, Aurora "Rory" Deveaux leaves Bénouville, Louisiana to spend her senior year at a boarding school in London. Unlike Anna Oliphant, though, Rory's been planning for this trip for years. She knows the difference between England and Britain and the United Kingdom, has researched English expressions and the school system, and has even resigned herself to that whole Mandatory Sport Thing.
What she isn't prepared for—and how could she be?—is arriving at Wexford the day after a series of Jack the Ripper copycat killings begins. Wexford is located in the East End, smack-dab in the middle of Ripper territory, and thus, at the epicenter of the wave of grotesquely-tacky-but-sadly-predictable Rippermania that surrounds the murders.
She's even less prepared to be the only person who's seen the prime suspect: A man who no one else appears to be able to see...
Hooray! New MJ series. If you're already a fan, you've probably already pre-ordered it. To which I say: GOOD SHOW AND SMART THINKING. You'll be pleased.
There isn't much else I can add—I'm always more tongue-tied about books that I enjoy than about books that that I don't—other than that The Name of the Star features everything you'd expect in a Maureen Johnson book: strong, snappy dialogue; a relatable heroine; romance; pure entertainment-with-a-capital-E. (The romance, though, takes a backseat to other storylines.)
Rory is a likable, believable, witty main character; there are quirky side characters (some of them completely off screen); the Ripper situation is an extraordinary one, but people react realistically to it (I always love that); and regular life continues even as the craziness ensues (meaning that, yes, there are boarding school hijinks and verbal slap-fights along with the ghostie bits).
Maureen Johnson does a great job of conveying the horror of the original (and the new) murders, while ALSO being understanding about peoples' fascination with them. The atmosphere around Rippermania is both bloodthirsty and fearful, which should be an oxymoron, but isn't: It's a combination that we've seen again and again, both portrayed in story (the Scream movies, for example) and played out in real life (the freaking nightly news). I'd like to say that her imagining of the Rippermania media blitz and commercialism bonanza was a brilliant satire on our desensitization to violence and so on, but... it actually felt too close to truthful to be entirely funny. Which, actually, might make it even more impressive, satire-wise.
All of that, and there's also a poignant tribute to the homefront ghosts of WWII, in the form of "...the British army's last active soldier from the Second World War, still in her uniform, still defending the East End." Which was a gorgeous thought that made me tear up when I read it the first time; the second time, when I transcribed it; and now, again, while giving this post one last read-through before hitting 'publish'.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.