Rory is the typical YA outsider – she’s an American from Louisiana attending a British boarding school, and she learns that she has a very particular aptitude that she can’t tell anyone about.
When she arrives at Wexford, she settles in, even though she has to learn how to play field hockey, likes her roommate, meets a boy she really likes, and gets used to English food and English ways of doing things. Johnson truly immerses the reader into the rain/not-rain ambience of London. Her English fellow students find her Southern style amusing. (She may be a little stereotypically Louisianan.) She has one mishap: she chokes on a piece of beef and almost dies.
Otherwise, everything is going fine until murders reminiscent of Jack the Ripper begin happening. When a murder occurs near the campus, Rory sees a strange man when she and her roommate are sneaking back into the dormitory. The strange thing is that her roommate doesn’t see him.
Shortly after, Rory is approached by Stephen, a police officer in a very secret unit for her help. Her near-death experience triggered an innate skill for seeing ghosts. This makes her part of the investigation for the Jack-the-Ripper copycat, putting her in great danger.
The novel takes turns I wasn’t expecting, and once things got started, I couldn’t put it down. There is the paranormal, history, London geography, English culture, and humor and tension. The book begins as a typical, formulaic YA book and evolves into a supernatural thriller. Johnson takes a different approach to the supernatural in YA fiction; there aren’t any vampires, werewolves, or witches. The characters, even the ghosts, are realistic and convincing.
One problem I have with the book is that we don’t learn about what is so special about Rory until half-way through the book. There are hints, but things don’t really get going until then. It is at that point that Rory must face the effects this ability is going to have on the rest of her life. Plus, the Ripper begins to pose more of a menace to all the characters.
Good book! The Name of the Star is an intriguing, creepy mystery with an awesome setting and a great cast of characters. Be prepared to read it from cover to cover.
The next book in the series, The Madness Underneath, is due to be published soon. I think Rory is going to be an interesting character to follow.