Monday, February 27, 2012

The Name of the Star Book Review

 Author: Maureen Johnson. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile. ISBN: 9780399256608.
Annotation: Rory Deveaux is excited to begin school at Wexford, a boarding school in London, after her parents are assigned to teach at a University in nearby Bristol. Although her Louisiana upbringing has made her somewhat familiar with the supernatural and superstitious, Rory is unprepared when she finds herself at the center of a string of mysterious murders emulating Jack the Ripper.  
Personal thoughts: The Jack the Ripper case has always intrigued me, so when I saw that a novel about it had been written for a young adult audience I couldn’t wait to pick it up. I found that The Name of the Star managed to capture the creepiness of Jack the Ripper without overloading on the gruesomeness that made the case so famous. The twists and turns in the novel also made it fresh and interesting, and it didn’t rely very much at all on the draw of Jack the Ripper being a major part of the plot. I am excited to see where the author takes this series and think it has a lot of potential.   
Plot summary: Aurora “Rory” Deveaux isn’t sure what to expect when she begins school at Wexford, a boarding school in London. Her parents, both law professors in New Orleans, were recently assigned to teach at a university in Bristol, and Rory, wanting to experience the big-city life, opted to attend school in the hustle and bustle of London’s Whitechapel district. At first, Rory finds herself adapting nicely to life in England. Her roommate, Jazza, is nice and introduces her to Jerome, a handsome prefect that Rory thinks might turn out to be more than a friend. A string of grisly and bizarre murders in the neighborhood, however, change everything. In 1888, the Whitechapel district was the hunting grounds of Jack the Ripper: a brutal madman who savagely murdered five prostitutes but was never caught. Now, a copycat killer is murdering women in the same locations, on the same days, at the same times, and Wexford seems to be at the center of Rippermania. As more is revealed about these new murders, Rory finds herself as the inexplicable target of the killer and at the center of an investigation by a mysterious group known as the Shades. Will Rory survive, or suffer the same dark fate as the Ripper victims in 1888 Whitechapel?
Review:  From veteran young adult author, Maureen Johnson, comes an intriguing new series for teens that is an entertaining combination of history, lore, and adventure. Although the author herself is a Philadelphia native, the London setting of The Name of the Star is expertly described, putting the reader right in the heart of the Whitechapel district of today. Also successfully presented are the facts, locations and legend surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. It is clear that the author did a great deal of research in writing this novel, and it pays off in a story that combines the past and present in a way that will interest young adult readers. Rory is a fun and spunky leading lady who’s Louisiana background contrasts nicely with her new English friends. There are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments in the story as well, making for a break from the darkness surrounding the Ripper copycat murders. Overall, Maureen Johnson has created another fun and interesting novel that makes for a very successful start to her new Shades of London series. The second novel in the series, The Madness Underneath, is set to be released on January 2, 2013.
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Hereafter by Tara Hudson, Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach.
Themes:  London, Jack the Ripper, murder, ghosts, boarding school.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.    
Series Information: First installment in Shades of London series. Second installment, The Madness Underneath, set to be released January 2, 2013.  
Discussion questions: 
-       What did you know about Jack the Ripper prior to reading The Name of the Star? Did you learn anything about the case while reading this book?
-     Why do you think Jack the Ripper has remained so popular, even though the crimes he committed were over 120 years ago?
-      Who was your favorite character? Why?
-     Were you surprised to learn the truth about Alistair? Why or why not?
-       How do you think the terminus works?
-     What do you think will happen in the sequel, The Madness Underneath?

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