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Feb 1, 2012

THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson

Genre:  Fantasy, Supernatural, Mystery
Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile; First Edition edition (September 29, 2011)
The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888.

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 now believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory 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.

Rory's quirky Louisiana perspective on life at a London boarding school provides a lot of laughs and makes her an easy-to-love character in this modern take on the Ripper murders. She spills details of her crazy family's lifestyle to British friends whose small intakes of breath appear to go unnoticed by her blithe spirit. In the context of a ghost story this practical, grounded character is a delightfully unexpected contrast and I enjoyed the first half of the book because of Rory's culture clash. 

As the focus shifted to solving the copycat modern Ripper murders it felt as though there were two stories being told in one book. So if you like fish-out-of-water stories you'll prefer the first half, and if you like murder mysteries you'll prefer the second half.
Johnson throws a curve ball with the reveal that the Ripper is targeting Rory because she can see him when no-one else can. No-one else, that is, except for a mysterious investigative team called The Shades. Rory loses some of her trademark humor and smarts in the second half, and her love interest seemed distressingly okay with leaving her to walk unescorted through Ripper territory, but the final revelation of an unexpected new dimension to Rory's talent for the supernatural will leave readers eager for the next in the series.

A mite short on chills for a supernatural murder mystery, but the loving portrayal of London from a foreigner's perspective, the plot twists, and the quirky characters entertain and delight.

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