The Name of the Star (Shades of London, book one)
By Maureen Johnson
Published 2011 by Putnam Juvenile
Rory has somewhat mixed feelings about starting a new life in a London boarding school. Unfortunately, those feelings are not going to become clearer anytime soon. Almost as soon as Rory arrives, a series of murders, emulating those of Jack the Ripper, begins and Rory finds herself thrust into the center of the investigation. Will she be able to adjust to London life and can she escape the clutches of the Ripper copycat?
This is another one of those times when I admit what a terrible person I am - if you know me, you know I have a bit of a book addiction. This addiction was probably only made worse when I became a librarian and was certainly fed when I attended ALA Annual Conference for the first time. I mean, books! Everywhere! Advance copies! So, I definitely came home with more copies than it was humanly possible to read in a timely manner. I promise, I am doing my darnedest to work through all those books I have sitting on my shelves - this is one of them. I was so excited to receive a galley of this because it sounds right up my alley - I love a good mystery and Jack the Ripper is particularly fascinating and gruesome. Also, it's not hard to guess from the cover that there's going to be a bit of the supernatural in this novel - and there is. So, while I didn't get to this book before it was released, I was still thrilled to have a copy and get started when I finally got a chance.
What motivated me to finally read this one was the eminent release of the sequel, all the good reviews I'd heard of it, and YALSA's The Hub Reading Challenge. I was not led astray. I had only read one of Johnson's books before (13 Little Blue Envelopes) but I really enjoyed it and kept meaning to read more by her. This was an excellent choice for furthering my experiences with her as an author. If there is one thing that Johnson does exceptionally well, it's characters. I fell for Rory immediately - I mean, literally, page one and I was hooked. An excellent voice and an interesting background, Rory is a wonderful narrator. She is witty and astute and just plain fun - plus she's fierce and not opposed to some good snogging and mixed emotions. That is perhaps my favorite aspect of Rory's character - not the snogging, but the embracing of her mixed feelings. Rory does not feel compelled to declare herself fully happy or fully sad - she is just fine with the shades of grey in between. This murkiness of emotions really begins to show up in the teenage years and I love that Rory doesn't back away from the confusion.
But there is not just one thing Johnson does well - she does most everything well. The dialogue is snappy, hilarious, and incredibly (sometimes painfully) realistic. The atmosphere is pitch perfect - there is just the right mix of stereotypical London gloom and supernatural creepiness. Everything about this book sucked me in and kept me hurtling toward the final pages - and I wouldn't have it any other way. Very much looking forward to reading the sequel and more from Johnson in the future.
Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.