Jack the Ripper, English boarding school, ghosts, teen detective squads. This is enough information to pique my interest, but I was skeptical that it would come together until the name Maureen Johnson was attached. Now I am on board.
Rory Deveaux moves from rural Louisiana to London to start a new life at a British boarding school. There she makes friends with sweet but straight-edge Jazza and a curly-haired boy named Jerome (Ah, those curly-haired boys!) School is difficult but stimulating and Rory is loving her new London life until a series of copy-cat murders, modeled after the gruesome work of Jack the Ripper, turn London upside down. Being invincible teens, Jazza and Rory find themselves sneaking about on the night of one of the murders and Rory sees a man who turns out to be the only suspect in the case. The problem is that Jazza can’t see him.
This is the second book I’ve read this season featuring teen ghost detectives*. Is this a new and unexpected trend in YA lit? It is definitely new territory for Johnson, who is well-known (and well-loved) for her funny contemporary girl books (Girl at Sea, Suite Scarlett, 13 Little Blue Envelopes**). Rory’s narrative, the fantastic supporting cast and the dash of romance is classic Johnson. The supernatural twist is new but very welcome!
While parts of the story are frightening and even violent, it’s clear that Johnson has not set out to spook her reader. At the heart of the novel is the story of the teens who are members of The Shades, which is the name of the secret police force who solve crime by communicating with ghosts. She spends a lot of time fleshing out (obviously not literally) the ghosts and their pasts, turning them into real, complicated characters. I look forward to learning more about The Shades- why is Callum so angry? What makes calm, Eton-educated Stephen tick? Please, please, can we have more Boo?
Luckily, this is the first in a series, so there is more to enjoy! I smell the possibility of a love triangle with Rory in the middle of sweet, non-Shade Jerome and complicated, moody Shade Stephen. Fans of Maureen Johnson will happily settle down and read this one in a night. This book is less gothic and more mystery- fans of paranormal romance will enjoy it, but it’s really written for the reader who loves contemporary fiction or mystery but is looking for something fresh.
The Name of the Star is available in hard cover from Penguin Canada.
*This isn’t exactly true. Evan Munday’s The Dead Kids Detective Agency is actually about a group of ghosts who solve mysteries, while The Shades are living people (mostly teens at this point) who can SEE ghosts and solve mysteries with the assistance of said ghosts.
**How is it that this book is not a movie yet? It would be the BEST teen movie!