The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
As Aurora ‘Rory’ Deveaux flies into London to start her new life at boarding school, a Jack the Ripper-style murder takes place in the East End. Maureen Johnson is one of my favourite authors. I usually look forward to her books because I know that before long, I am going to be laughing out loud on the tram and embarrassing myself. The Name of the Star is a little bit different. Rory Deveaux is leaving small-town Louisiana for boarding school in London’s East End. She’s a bit nervous about fitting in and keeping up with the work, but what she arrives to is a London unsettled, as reports of a brutal murder circulate.
What works so well in this story is the palpable sense of mounting dread as Rory settles into boarding school and the modern-day ‘Ripper’ works its way through recreating the crimes of the world’s first infamous serial killer. Rory is a completely believable and engaging protagonist. While she is disturbed by the murders occurring nearby, what really worries her is making friends and being forced to play field hockey – a strange and unusual punishment to a non-athletic American. Rory’s very funny adventures at boarding school are interspersed with the copycat killer’s increasingly violent murders and the tension ratchets up as the two narrative strands move closer together. However, even as the murders move closer to Rory’s life, the twist that comes halfway through really kicks things up a gear.
The Name of the Star is a Gothic adventure that I couldn’t put down. Yes, there are boarding school hijinks. Yes, there is a boy. Yes, there is a serial killer loose in the East End. What remains after the final page, though, is an ode to London and the Gothic novel. If you haven’t read Maureen Johnson before, then what are you waiting for?
Marie Matteson is from Readings Port Melbourne