When Rory Deveaux’s parents are invited to teach in Bristol for a year, they give Rory the chance to decide where she wants to take her final year of high school: at home in New Orleans, with them in Bristol, or somewhere else that strikes her fancy. Rory chooses Wexford, a boarding school in London, where she lucks out with a great roommate, gets talked into joining field hockey by the boisterous Claudia, and learns to handle the heavy academic expectations with the help of mysterious boy-in-the-stacks, Alistair. A year at Wexford also puts Rory in the middle of a London obsessed with a new Jack the Ripper — a killer fixed on recreating the five murders committed in the fall of 1888. Add in the facts that Rory’s actually seen the killer, and that, apparently, no one else can, and that classic boarding school story is now a mystery that keeps the pages turning.
While I like mysteries and boarding school stories, I’m not a big fan of ghost stories, and so I’d passed over this one until now. I saw so many intriguing comments about the second book in the series on Twitter, though, that I thought I’d give The Name of the Star a try after all. I’m glad I did. Ghosts may figure prominently in the story, but I never felt like the supernatural element was the point of the novel. Whether a character is alive or dead, Johnson’s emphasis is on his or her humanity: history, character, and choices. Rather than cheap thrills, then, the ghosts provide the premise for an engaging story that I think will appeal to many others who also tend to skip ghost stories.
Read an article by Maureen Johnson on the value of “dark” YA literature (not a new topic, but always an interesting one. Plus, I love reading what authors I like have to say about literature!).