Monday, January 9, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On

The Name of the Star (Shades of London #1) by Maureen Johnson (Putnam Juvenile, 2011, 384pp.)

When Rory’s family relocates to England, she finds herself being registered to attend a boarding school in the East End of London - quite a ways away from her hometown in Louisiana. But while English life appears strange at first (baked beans for breakfast?!) she adjusts quickly and soon makes friends. But all is not well in London Town. Shortly after Rory’s arrival at the boarding school, a young woman is found dead close to her school’s campus. A few weeks later, a second woman is found murdered. A rumor surfaces that the two murders were done by a copycat killer who mutilates his victims in the same fashion as Jack the Ripper, a 19th century killer. Morbidly curious, Rory and her friends decide to take a peek at the second crime scene - albeit from the distance of the yellow caution tape. Here, she spies a suspicious character in the crowd who seems to take an unhealthy interest in the gruesome spectacle - but when she points him out to her friends, she’s shocked to realize that only she can see him. Is Rory going mad? Or could this be, not the work of a copycat killer, but of the original Ripper himself, back from the dead?

What I like most about Johnson’s story is how it exposes a less than flattering side of the general public. Once the police realize that they can predict the date of the “New Ripper’s” next victim, all of London is glued to their television sets, enthralled by the titillating possibility of who could be next. As one of Rory’s school friends points out:

“Jack the Ripper never called himself Jack the Ripper. The name came from a letter sent to the Central News Agency. It was a hoax, and almost definitely written by a reporter from the Star newspaper. That was the paper that made the Ripper famous. The whole thing was kind of a media creation. ... And he’s the star of the show...” (255).
Amazon has this listed as for Ages 12 and up - but I would disagree. In a way, The Name of the Star reminds me a little of Harry Potter (boarding school, London, fantastical elements), but in a good way. And although Harry Potter has it’s mild share of fantasy adventure violence, I would hesitate before handing this book to a 13-year-old. Simply put, it’s the subject matter. The story quotes descriptions of the wounds inflicted on the Ripper’s victims, though not in excess.

For those interested in reading more books like this, you will not be disappointed. The Name of the Star is the first in a series. Volume 2, The Madness Underneath, comes out in October later this year. Recommended for Ages 15-Up.

Click on cover for image source.

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