Maureen Johnson’s “The Name of the Star”
“The Name of the Star” is the first book from Maureen Johnson’s series-in-progress, Shades of London. I read it because I love Maureen Johnson (as a person), but I’ve yet to love her work. I often like them enough, but I’ve never encountered any that I absolutely, completely adored. I have some of her books loaded on my Kindle, but this piqued my interest because it’s a modern re-telling (sort of) of the story of Jack the Ripper.
It’s a pretty good mystery, but I don’t know why I didn’t feel as scared as I feel I ought to have. I picked it up because I’d been reading people who couldn’t fall asleep because of this book. And since I’m apparently a masochist, I began reading it but I still slept soundly. Anyway, that’s not the point.
“The Name of the Star” follows Rory Devaux’ dip into the boarding school system, after her parents had been relocated for work. While figuring out many Britishisms (I’m probably going to get a lot of them wrong in this review), she stumbles upon a mystery, which makes her new life there all the more exciting and scary. A copycat has been leaving a string of murders that imitate those made by the legendary Jack the Ripper—copied down to the logistics, specifics, and the brutal methods. Rory, caught in what has come to be called Rippermania, tries to stay out of trouble—only to find it following her.
While the main premise of the book is exciting in itself—Who is doing all of this? Why hasn’t the copycat been caught, in this age of surveillance and technology?—one other great thing about the book is Rory coming to terms with her own fear and, in her mind, lack of courage. A peculiar character, Jo, reiterates a snippet from a speech given by Winston Churchill, that somewhat empowers Rory, despite the fear taking hold: ‘Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty.’
It’s easy to give in to fear, especially if there is a string of murders surrounding you and your friends, but again Jo becomes sort of a pillar of strength and wisdom, gently advising Rory: “Fear can’t hurt you. When it washes over you, give it no power. It’s a snake with no venom. Remember that. That knowledge can save you.” And it is with this that Rory digs deep within herself to find the courage that she didn’t know she’d been keeping all along:
“It’s not that I am extremely brave—I think I just forgot myself for a minute. Maybe that’s what bravery is. You forget you’re in trouble when you see someone else in danger. Or maybe there is a limit to how afraid you can get, and I’d hit it.”
Over the course of horrific events, Rory’s courage grows. It’s a brilliant thing to see unfold, and Johnson wrote her well. I think a lot of things borders a little on being too convoluted, but maybe that’s what makes some stories what they are. Maybe that’s why they get written in the first place.
Again, I don’t completely love it, but I’m invested enough to see the series through, at least as far as the second one goes. Carrying on to the end depends on how I feel about that installation, but I’ve got high hopes because it’s an excellent, interesting, and original story; and, it leaves the reader at a point where they have to know what’s going to come next.