Review: THE NAME OF THE STAR (Shades of London #1)

Review: THE NAME OF THE STAR (Shades of London #1)
The Name of the Star
Shades of London #1

Written by: Maureen Johnson
Published by: Putnam Juvenile
Release date: September 29th, 2011
Genres: Mystery, Paranormal, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: select
Buy: B&N, Amazon
Add on: Goodreads

The day that Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school is also the day a series of brutal murders breaks out over the city, killings mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper spree of more than a century ago.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him--the only one who can see him. And now Rory has become his next target. In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

My Thoughts

I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing about it, other than:

I still kind of thought it would take place at least partly in the 1800s – no clue where that idea came from, but there you go. I don’t think I even read the blurb before I started reading it. Or if I did, I’d completely forgotten everything the blurb spoils – which I’m actually really glad for, because it was a lot of fun going into this book totally unawares.  That being said – here, let me make you more awares! ;)

The Name of the Star begins with Rory Deveaux and her parents moving from Louisiana to the UK, and Rory goes to attend a boarding school. The day she arrives, there’s been a murder in London – one which bears a striking resemblance to Jack the Ripper’s first murder in the 1800s. As subsequent murders occur and the London police become more and more frantic to find the killer – whom no one has seen, because he doesn’t show up on CCTV – Rory gets thrown into the middle of things when she sees the suspect on her school campus and becomes involved in the investigation.

I’m not giving away more than that, though, because to do so would be to totally ruin all the fun reveals.

But to be honest, it wasn’t really the mystery/reveals/suspense that had me hooked while reading this book. Granted, those were aspects that grabbed my attention for sure, and kept things interesting. But I really enjoyed Rory as the narrator and main character. She’s smart, sometimes a little beyond her years but also totally a teenager, which was great. Her sense of humor was hilarious, and I especially enjoyed all the anecdotes about her crazy relatives and life back in Louisiana. Rory has a flare for telling really funny stories and making great observations, which kept an otherwise creepy and suspenseful book light in all the right places.

Rory is also really entertaining in the way she describes her experiences in a new country; her observations about the differences between her own experiences, vs how things are in London, are awesome. One paragraph that I actually highlighted in my eBook (and that a friend of mine also pointed out when she read it) was:

…several psychologists were being called in to talk to anyone who felt like they needed support. And people were freaked out, but they showed it in weird ways. Back at home, people would have been weeping and doing a lot of very public group hugs. At Wexford, some people just aggressively pretended nothing was happening. (eBoook 38%)

For some reason, I LOVE this description. It seems so incredibly British to me – “Keep Calm and Carry On” like nothing’s wrong and it won’t affect you. Rory makes a lot of similar observations like that, which just struck me as funny and probably pretty accurate. Perfect. <3

Something else that I found really refreshing is that, though The Name of the Star is set mostly in a school, it doesn’t follow most of the high-school-cliches. The students all feel very real, there aren’t the typical “mean girls” or “popular clique”, or any of the seemingly endless list of things that many YA school-oriented books have. This school seems incredibly real, for a college-prep school of sorts. And though Rory is awkward at first (anyone would be, starting a new school in a new country), she meshes with the students pretty normally – there’s no excessive “new girl” drama, she and her roommate become really good friends despite their differences, and Rory doesn’t have a problem talking to the other students and making new friends – who all, as it turns out, are pretty interesting characters in their own rights. I don’t think there was a single character who, even if I didn’t like them that much, I found annoying to read about.

Even the extremely minor characters all felt really well-developed. Even those we hear very little about (mostly students that Rory mentions interacting with but whom we don’t actually see in the story) seemed to add another layer of depth to her life at Wexford, which I thought was brilliant.

Finally, I want to mention one thing that I’ve seen many reviewers mention as a letdown: the “romance”. Personally, I thought this was really well done. But let me explain: There is a reason I didn’t classify this as a YA paranormal romance in my genre section. While Rory did find a boyfriend and he was a main character in the book, the “romance” was negligible. He’s a nice guy, she’s a nice girl; they seem to like each other, and there is much kissing and general adorableness. But the relationship isn’t really based on much. Personally, I found this really realistic and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. Rory’s sixteen, she doesn’t know exactly who/what she wants from a boyfriend, but she does like him, and like I said, they are pretty cute together. But here’s why I thought the “lighter” relationship worked in the context of this book – it is not a focal point of the story. There are much bigger things going on, with the Ripper-like murders and the investigation that Rory gets herself involved in. It’s just one more layer to Rory’s school life, but it isn’t a main plot point or overarching theme. So, yeah – just don’t go into the book expecting a paranormal romance. (The romance comes later in book 2, and is TOTALLY worth the wait. I’m just saying.)

I had a hard time coming up with a star-rating for this book, because looking at it from a post-book-2 perspective, I love it even more than I did when I finished it the first time. I feel like giving it 5 stars, but I think I need to go with my initial reaction and stick with four. I guess I never mentioned any specific things I found lacking – and I can’t put my finger on any, really. My initial feeling was that it just didn’t have that 5-star sparkle, but I’m still recommending it to anyone and everyone who might enjoy it, because book 2 is just… completely awesome. (Review to come!)

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